Newberry Twp. Police: Handicapped parking was call-related

John Joyce

A photo of a Newberry Township Police vehicle parked in a handicapped spot outside a Newberry-area Rutter's convenience store made the rounds on Facebook Monday, prompting many social media users to sound off against the officer and the police department.

Newberry Township Police Chief John Snyder said he, too, had an adverse reaction to the photo when he first saw it.

"I had an emotional reaction to it. I was as upset as anybody was," he said. "Because I didn't know the details."

Neither did the people commenting on the photo online. Snyder first sought to address the issue with a Facebook comment of his own.

In a written statement posted in the comments below the photo after it was shared on the department's own Facebook page, Snyder was adamant that he was not defending the officer's action, rather seeking to explain the situation.

"The officer responded to an emergency call at the store and was dealing with a volatile situation," the statement reads.

What happened: Snyder spoke at length Tuesday about just what that situation was. Officers were responding to a hang-up 911 call taken at 10:50 p.m. Sunday. The call was traced back to an area residence known for drug activity. The officers were coming into the area when a clerk at the Rutter's — someone the officers are familiar with through their community policing and regular presence in the area — flagged one of them down, he said.

"He was flagged down, he pulls into the spot near the person flagging him down," Snyder said.

He said there was no malice involved in the officer's parking in a handicap spot, the officers were responding to an emergency in which they had no idea what they were about to encounter.

The clerk directed the officers to a young woman on the side of the building who told them she had been at the house in question and left because she was in fear for her life. During the officers' interaction with the young woman, she was found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia and was cited for such, Snyder said. Further charges against the woman are pending, therefore Snyder declined to identify the woman by name.

Understanding: The photo on its own conveys none of that information, Snyder concedes.

"For other people — and myself — to Monday morning quarterback someone else without knowing the details is easy to do," he said.

But after speaking with the officers involved and learning that a girl called police saying she was in fear for her life, he is inclined to be more understanding about the parking situation versus if the cop had stopped off to use the ATM, as at least one Facebook comment speculated, Snyder said.

"He wasn't getting a drink and a hot dog," he said.

Snyder said he could not comment on disciplinary actions but asked that the community understand his officers do a tough job and work hard to protect what he feels is a pretty good reputation his department has built in the community it serves. He said he has spoken to all of his officers and they will be more aware of their surroundings in future dealings with the public.

The situation placed Snyder in the position of having to juggle being supportive of his officers in the commission of their duties with ensuring the public is treated with courtesy and professionalism, he said..

"I support the officers that work for me, and I don't think they should be ridiculed," he said. "I just want the community to know that the safety of our citizens and our public comes first."

— Reach John Joyce at jjoyce2@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at  @JohnJoyceYD.