EDITORIAL: Power struggle over York County Drug Task Force sends wrong message

York Dispatch

EDITOR'S NOTE: This editorial was originally published Jan. 22, 2013.

York County District Attorney Tom Kearney

Officers of the law were in a standoff last week in York County.
Not with crooks, though.

Sadly enough for county residents, they were facing off against each other.

In an almost unbelievable turn of events, District Attorney Tom Kearney said York City was no longer a member of the York County Drug Task Force, and he ordered six city officers out of the task force's office by the end of the day Thursday.

At issue is the chain of command over those officers assigned by the county's various police departments to the task force, which is coordinated out of the district attorney's office.

Kearney claims city Police Chief Wes Kahley "elected to no longer be a member" because he was unwilling to enter into a written agreement that establishes who controls the officers within the task force.

"The city police have declined to recognize any chain of command in the drug task force outside of their own department," Kearney said. "(But) I need the oversight to ensure the drug task force functions well."

According to Kahley, he had been working with the DA's office to "to hammer out an acceptable resolution," an agreement that specified all drug task force operations within city limits would first be run past a lead city narcotics detective who's been part of the task force for years.

It's a matter of safety, he said, citing a recent 911 call of a man with a gun -- who turned out to be an undercover task force member.

The chief said he was told last Thursday that agreement was no longer an option, "and I needed to sign a new agreement."

That deal, Kahley said, would have forced him to relinquish authority over city officers who are part of the drug task force, as well as relinquish authority over drug investigations and drug arrests within the city limits.

Plus, he says, no police department in the county that has signed the new agreement was asked to accept those same conditions.

Both sides claim they want to work this out, and we believe they will.

But in the meantime this power struggle sends a sorry message to the residents of York City and the county -- that their safety is less important than who's the boss.

If Kearney wants to create the District Attorney's Police Force, whose members answer to him and him alone, he should find the funding -- and authority -- to do so.

Otherwise, he should understand the drug task force is made up of representatives from other, autonomous agencies to which they also must answer. Kearney's job should be to coordinate their common efforts, not command their every move.

Kahley must understand that, as well.

There can be no coordination if every member of the force has to constantly check in with their department bosses. One person must be responsible for directing day-to-day operations.

If he doesn't like that, well, no one is forcing him to assign officers to the task force.

So please, gentlemen, blink.

Both of you.