Shared-policing accord set for ‘test drive’ in Bernardston and Leyden

  • A police cruiser outside the Leyden Town Offices. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 6/23/2022 5:24:59 PM
Modified: 6/23/2022 5:24:40 PM

Seven months after Leyden’s Public Safety Advisory Committee first convened, the first significant results of the committee and town’s work will take effect July 1, when an interim shared-policing agreement between the towns of Leyden and Bernardston is set to begin.

The Bernardston Selectboard gave its approval on May 18 and Leyden’s Selectboard gave the agreement the green light the following week. The agreement, which is set to last until June 30, 2023, will authorize the Bernardston Police Department to operate and provide policing services for Leyden, with Police Chief James Palmeri acting as the head of both departments.

“Full police services,” Palmeri, who has been Bernardston’s police chief since 2008, said when asked about what residents of both towns can expect. “The overall continuity of police services is better when you have a larger department.”

The agreement, which was worked through by Palmeri, both Selectboards and members of the Public Safety Advisory Committee, is the first step toward possible regionalization for the Leyden Police Department, which has not had a chief since Dan Galvis retired in October 2021. After Galvis’ retirement, the Public Safety Advisory Committee was given the goal of re-envisioning all aspects of public safety in Leyden.

Conversations about the future of the Police and Fire departments, as well as emergency medical services, are still underway as the town works with the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management through a state Efficiency and Regionalization grant the town was awarded in March.

Bernardston Selectboard member Stanley Garland said he and his board were unsure of what to think when first approached about the agreement, but they soon found “agreeable” terms.

“I think when anybody brings anything to you, you’re skeptical,” Garland said. “I don’t think there was a lot of benefit for Bernardston, other than trying to get this regionalization stuff going — that was a whole key point.”

Garland said Bernardston has looked at regionalizing its services in the past, but found residents were skeptical of the idea. He added, though, that times have changed since it last looked at joining services with Northfield and Gill.

“I think people are beginning to realize, that as much as we like to keep our own personalized entities like police departments, it’s getting harder and harder,” Garland said. “You’re going to have hiccups, that’s going to happen, and we’ll work through them.”

Leyden Selectboard Chair Bill Glabach said he appreciated “the receptiveness of Chief Palmeri and the Bernardston Selectboard” as they worked through the agreement.

“I think we’ve been real pleased with the process,” he said. “Bernardston was very receptive and helpful and interested, and they understand our problem.”

Glabach was not always on board with sharing services with another town, but that changed as the process unfolded. Bernardston, he added, is a natural partner to Leyden through the towns’ membership in the Pioneer Valley Regional School District. Leyden students have attended Bernardston Elementary School since the closure of Pearl Rhodes Elementary School in 2019.

“The (Public Safety Advisory) Committee was probably frustrated with me because I did drag my feet,” Glabach joked. “The more I thought about the interim aspect of it, I understood that in order to try it, we really needed to do a test drive.”

Through the terms of the agreement, Leyden has budgeted $85,644 for 600 hours of on-call service per month and approximately 80 hours of dedicated patrols per month. These hours can be adjusted if Leyden residents and officials feel they need more or less police coverage in town.

“It’s not going to cost the town anything to go into this project,” Garland said. “We’re trying to get police forces to combine because we all know we can’t continue the way we’re going. We can’t afford it.”

Bernardston will have the “ultimate decision-making authority” on personnel matters for policing within each town as well, according to the agreement. All officers will operate under the Bernardston Police Department and while Leyden officers are able to apply to work in Bernardston, Palmeri said none of the town’s officers have.

While Glabach and residents at various Leyden meetings have expressed interest in maintaining their own police department, he said merging with Bernardston is the next best thing, as it keeps policing local.

“My view came to be that we were going to have to hire a full-time police chief, who was more than likely not going to be a Leyden resident,” Glabach said. “It’s better to have a shared police chief you know with a town you’re familiar with, than start from scratch with a new police chief that lives outside of town.”

Leyden’s current police office in the Town Offices will be used as a substation for police officers working in town. The substation will be used by officers when they are not on patrol and Leyden residents may speak to officers there to get through administrative work like licensing.

For Palmeri, sharing police services will ensure both towns have proper coverage and can help ensure younger, newer police officers are enticed to stay in town, so the towns might not have to rely on part-time officers who work other jobs.

“It’s not that one agency is better than the other. You need personnel to carry out the operations of law enforcement,” Palmeri continued. “You can’t do it part-time.”

Additionally, an advisory committee composed of a Selectboard member from each town, a Finance Committee member from each town and a community representative appointed by the town moderator from each town will meet monthly with Palmeri to discuss policing services, any issues encountered while working in Leyden and if any changes need to made to the agreement. Towns can initiate termination of the agreement if 120 days’ notice is given.

“I know we’ve got a good police chief heading up the process; he wants to make it successful and we want to make it successful,” Garland said. “We’re looking forward to getting started and we’ll deal with things as they come.”

Palmeri urged residents of Bernardston and Leyden to give the agreement time to work out, saying, “I’m asking both towns to keep an open mind on this process until we get into it.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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