York City police chief says county DA insulted drug cops, DA says no offense meant

Liz Evans Scolforo

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published May 8, 2013.

In this file photo, York City Police Chief Wes Kahley comments during the mayor's news conference on the spike in violent crime in York City, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

A recent comment by York County District Attorney Tom Kearney insults the contributions York City drug detectives have made to the county's drug task force, according to the city's police chief, but Kearney said no offense was intended.

"Don't mischaracterize what my detectives did," York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said. "They busted their (butts) for this entire county. They sacrificed, their families sacrificed, for this whole county -- and they were asked to do that."

Overtime records for York City drug detectives who served in the county drug task force bear that out, according to the chief.

"I went back through our records and 43 percent of my drug guys' overtime last year was (for task-force operations) outside the city," Kahley said. "My detectives were working outside the city about as much as they were inside the city. That's because we believe strongly it's important to address drug issues across the county.

"We were considered a model around the state for how a drug task force should work."

Some of those overtime costs were paid for by the drug task force through forfeiture funds, but about 28 percent of them were paid by York City, meaning city taxpayers, the chief said.

'Focus' at issue: Kahley said was troubled to learn Kearney, while campaigning for re-election, said the drug task force's "focus was solely on the city" when city detectives held leadership roles there.

The chief said it was in 2006, under former District Attorney Stan Rebert's tenure, that York City detectives in the drug task force were asked to take on those leadership roles, and said the arrangement continued after Kearney took office.

"We stepped up when vacancies needed to be filled ... because we knew it was important to the county," Kahley said. "Historically, the only officers who were involved full-time in the drug task force were two state troopers and York City officers. The other officers were part-time."

The chief said Kearney could have replaced existing task-force leaders with new ones whenever he wanted.

"What bothers me most is Tom Kearney (saying) ... he had to kick us out of the task force because we (didn't care) about drug problems outside the city," Kahley said.

DA responds: But Kearney said he never meant to insinuate city detectives in the drug task force focused efforts solely within city limits.

"If I said 'solely,' then that's not true," he said. "It's not my intention in any way to say York City Police were not involved in York County operations. They were," the DA said. "As Chief Kahley put it, the supervision of the drug task force was thrust upon them. Chief Kahley told me that was not what they wanted, but they did it.

"All I am trying to do is to make this a countywide drug task force whose focus is on the entire county," Kearney said. "There was no countywide strategic plan as to how to pursue that."

The drug task force is currently made up of two state troopers and four municipal officers from police departments in York County -- all of whom are devoted full time to the task force -- plus a number of municipal officers who serve on a part-time basis, Kearney said.

Still estranged: Kahley confirmed city drug detectives have not yet returned to the York County Drug Task Force, but said he remains hopeful that will happen soon.

Kearney said he "fully anticipates" issues between city police and his office will be resolved, assuming he's re-elected, and that city drug detectives will again begin to work in the drug task force offices.

"This should not be a campaign issue, in my view," he said. "This has been blown up (by my opponent) for political purposes."

Since February, Kearney has told media outlets that his office and York City Police had reached an "agreement."

Asked what that meant, he explained that while York City Police are not officially part of the drug task force, both agencies continue to work together.

"We continue to supply them with (drug) buy money, they still have (task force) vehicles, and we still supply them with leads," Kearney said.

Financial hit: But Kahley said the city no longer receives the roughly $200,000 a year it once did from the district attorney's office and is no longer compensated for drug detectives' overtime hours.

"All those issues need to be worked out," the chief said. "But the only people hurt by things being fractured are the citizens. My guys have plenty of work to do in the city."

Kearney declined comment about the $200,000 and overtime reimbursements, saying state law limits what he can say about drug forfeiture money. Also, he said, he doesn't think it's proper to comment about those funds.

The split happened in mid January. At the time, both Kahley and Kearney said the disagreement stemmed from whether city police would have authority over drug operations in the city.

Kahley said his detectives were ordered to leave the offices; Kearney has said city police elected to no longer be members of the task force.

Progress: It appears there has been progress in resolving the issues between the two agencies.

Kahley was one of five chiefs involved in a York County Chiefs of Police Association subcommittee that created a policy manual for the drug task force, according to Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo, president of the association.

The chief says the policy manual would put York City officers in operational control of drug task force operations within city limits.

Kahley said he has no problems with the policy manual and acknowledges the district attorney has final authority over the drug task force.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.