Springetts Police partner with feds to identify 'blind spots'

Liz Evans Scolforo
  • Springettsbury Twp. Police have partnered with the U.S. Dept. of Justice's Office of Justice Programs.
  • The goal is to identify and rectify blind spots and gaps in the department, Chief Dan Stump said.
  • Stump said he wants the department to forge deeper relationships with its citizens, and to be a model agency.

Springettsbury Township's police chief said it's no mystery what citizens expect from police officers.

Springettsbury Township Police Chief Dan Stump talks about the department's two-year partnership with the Department of Justice to find weaknesses and blind spots, Friday May 13, 2016.
John A. Pavoncello photo

"They want to be heard. They want to be respected as human beings when police come out. They want police to follow the rules," Chief Dan Stump said. "That's what legitimizes police in a community. I believe we have that already, but I want to make it deeper."

At a time when some law-enforcement agencies across the United States are at odds with their communities, Stump has not only welcomed scrutiny — he's invited it.

"I keep going back to one thing: It's the right thing to do," he said. "We're opening our house. ... We're not hiding anything."

On Feb. 10, Springettsbury Township Police officially partnered with the federal Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, to "identify blind spots and gaps" in the police department, according to Stump.

"I want to put deeper roots in the community as a police department," the chief said. "I live in this community. York County is me."

Free two-year program: It's a two-year program that doesn't cost municipalities a dime for the in-depth assistance provided, he said.

The Office of Justice Programs launched the diagnostic center in spring 2012 to provide technical assistance to state, local and tribal policymakers seeking to implement data-driven strategies to combat crime and improve public safety in their communities, according to its website. The defining characteristic of the center is its approach to being smart on crime by helping state and local leaders to use local data to apply what works in criminal justice in their communities, the website states.

Springettsbury Township Police Chief Dan Stump has admitted there are problems within his department and he has taken responsibility for correcting them. 
(John A. Pavoncello photo)

Stump said his department spent several months in the program's "intake" phase before being accepted as a partner. Springettsbury joins about 30 other agencies across the country that also formed partnerships with the diagnostic center, according to the chief.

Federal experts are focusing on three areas during their review of Springettsbury Township Police, he said:

  • Procedural justice issues, focusing on policies and procedures, training, use of force, citizen complaints, internal investigations and national best practices
  • Police/community relations, including crime issues, fear of crime and building relationships of trust
  • Body camera policy development, including helping craft a policy that complies with state wiretapping laws, guidelines for storing and purging videos and handling right-to-know requests. Stump said township supervisors have approved funding for police to get body cameras this year.

The partnership is now in the diagnostic phase, Stump said, meaning experts are interviewing officers, prosecutors, elected officials, local groups, members of the community, critics of the department and others, and also gathering data, including incident reports, citizen complaints and use-of-force data.

The diagnostic center will then review its findings and provide Springettsbury police with a final report, which is expected in September, according to Stump. The report will be made public, he said.

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The implementation phase begins after the report is issued, according to the chief. In this phase, the report will be used to identify and prioritize which recommendations to implement, he said.

'A great path': The final assessment phase will gauge progress and success moving forward, Stump said.

"We're learning so much already," he said. "I'm walking down a road that's new to me. ... But it's a great path."

Stump acknowledged some police officials from outside Springettsbury were initially dubious about that level of invited scrutiny. But he said they all seemed to come around about the program when he explained what it offers.

"You've got to swallow your pride a little bit" and accept criticism, he said, because the long-term reward will be so much greater than the short-term discomfort.

He said all his 32 officers support the partnership and also support wearing body cameras.

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How it happened: Stump said he attended a global leadership summit in York City in August, during which a speaker discussed the importance of identifying blind spots.

"It hit home with me — what are we missing as an organization?" he said. Stump and his command staff discussed the idea, after which Stump reached out to York County chief deputy prosecutor Dave Sunday for help in finding such a program.

Sunday said he put the chief in contact with U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith of Pennsylvania's Middle District, and Smith said he put Stump in touch with the diagnostic center.

"Chief Stump grabbed it by both reins and took off with it," Sunday said. "I think the program is absolutely fantastic ... and we're really excited about it."

Strong supporter: Smith said he's a strong supporter of the diagnostic center and said it's tailored to provide local law-enforcement agencies with important tools. Smith also said he's impressed by the caliber of the center and its experts.

"It is absolutely, from our point of view, desirable that programs like this be utilized to the maximum to protect the community, to protect police themselves and to make sure they are fully prepared and fully trained ... to do their jobs and protect their communities," the U.S. attorney said. "That's why it's so encouraging that the police department and Chief Stump have taken the lead ... trying to get to the forefront of protecting their community."

Smith said he hopes other police departments in this area can benefit as well, to help them fight "severe problems" in their communities, such as violent street crime, drugs and infrastructure issues.

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Past allegations: The U.S. Department of Justice previously investigated Springettsbury Township Police after local civil-rights attorney Devon Jacob sent a letter to the FBI alleging the department had "gone rogue" and that the "general public was in grave danger."

Stump said the federal investigation ended in November when the department was cleared of wrongdoing.

Jacob has filed a lawsuit against the department on behalf of the family of Todd William Shultz, 40, of North York, who was killed when he was shot 17 times by two Springettsbury officers shortly before 7 p.m. Dec. 29, 2012, outside the Kmart on Haines Road. He was wielding a table knife and scissors at the time, despite repeated orders and pleas from police that he drop the weapons.

Jacob also represented Steven E. Landis and Debra L. Williams, who claimed Springettsbury officers used excessive force when arresting them during separate incidents. Both filed lawsuits as well, and Springettsbury Township settled with them for $250,000 each.

York County District Attorney Tom Kearney asked state police to do independent investigations in the Shultz, Landis and Williams cases, after which Kearney cleared officers of criminal wrongdoing in all three incidents.

Played 'a part': In a text message, Jacob said Williams, Landis and the family of Shultz "are happy to see this partnership result from their complaint to the Department of Justice, and from their civil rights litigation."

Stump confirmed the three cases contributed to him deciding to seek out the federal partnership but said they weren't the motivating factor.

"Did they play a part in it? Yes," the chief said, but only a part.

"The department never would have headed down this path unless we forced them to do so," Jacob wrote.

Stump said his primary motivator was forging a close bond between his officers and Springettsbury Township citizens.

"I want our community to trust us and believe in us," he said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.