By Matt Berg
Instead of wearing two hats, Police Chief Daniel Ilnicky wears two badges.
On the first and third Mondays of the month, when he has office hours in Blandford, he wears a black uniform. On the second and fourth Mondays he works in Chester, where he wears a blue uniform. And no matter what Monday it is, Ilnicky is always prepared.
“When I know that I’m doing both, the other shirt will be hanging in the cruiser,” Ilnicky said this week outside his office at Blandford Town Hall. It was a Wednesday, and he was wearing his Chester blues — he said he was headed there to work after a meeting.
After Blandford’s four-person police force resigned last July, citing poor working conditions and equipment, neighboring Chester offered help by sending their officers to patrol parts of the town. A month after the resignations, Blandford hired Ilnicky — Chester’s police chief of 11 years — as its interim police chief. He was recently named Blandford’s permanent chief.
On the matter of keeping track of his dry cleaning, Ilnicky quipped, “You know, it’s awful.” He said he’s looking forward to only having one uniform to worry about.
Over the past year Ilnicky, town administrators from Blandford and Chester, and a manager from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission have been drafting an agreement to merge resources for both departments. Intended to cut costs and increase efficiency, the agreement will double the number of part-time officers patrolling the towns to 12. The plan, now in its final stages, is awaiting approval from the town select boards in the coming months.
Once the towns officially begin to share services, the two agencies will be renamed the Chester Blandford Shared Police Department, making Ilnicky’s title Chester Blandford Shared Police Chief. Redesigned uniforms and cruisers will incorporate the change. Currently, the cruisers for both Blandford and Chester do not have a town label — they only say “police.”
A consultant’s study for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission,released in December, estimated startup costs for merging the departments at $82,300. Implementing a vehicle replacement plan accounts for about half the cost, with the rest of the money paying for salary adjustments, standardizing uniforms and other expenses.
“It’s been impressive to me, coming from the outside, that there’s so much thoughtfulness and support being put into it by both communities,” said Eric Weiss, the planning commission’s manager of regional and municipal services. He provides technical support by synthesizing ideas discussed at the monthly meetings and putting them on paper for the select board members to review.
A major issue that still needs to be resolved involves the town’s dispatch systems. Blandford’s 911 calls go through Berkshire Control, a dispatch center run by the Berkshire County Sherif’s Office. Chester’s 911 calls go to a dispatch center at the state police barracks in Northampton.
Garcia said the goal is to move Blandford’s dispatch system over to Northampton as well. That will require approval, as well as the purchase of new radios — a cost estimated by the consultants at $13,000 — because the current Blandford radios use a different frequency.
Other tasks include standardizing records management. While Chester uses software designed for law enforcement agencies to manage its reports and track activity, the consultants’ study said Blandford police had been preparing reports in Microsoft Word.
If the plan is approved within the next few months, the towns will briefly run the new, shared department as a pilot program to see how it goes before an official rollout in 2020. Weiss believes that if it’s successful, other towns will be able to use Blandford and Chester as a model for creating an agreement to share resources.
“Other towns will look to this, maybe not for police but for ambulance services or DPW services,” Weiss said. “These towns want to maintain their identities as small towns, but yet they know they need to provide the support and services needed.”