York City Schools police build a home

Sean Philip Cotter
  • York City School District police officers participated in a Habitat for Humanity build on Thursday.

None of the York City School District police officers tinkering away Thursday at the electricity box on the outside of the house had previously wired up anything.

But Chief Michael Muldrow and officers Eddie Hernandez and Percy Anthony Powell Jr. were giving the electrical game a shot as part of a Habitat for Humanity build on Thursday in Manchester Township.

"If it can kill you, and you can't see it, I leave that up to somebody else," Hernandez said with a chuckle as he got some grounding wire ready to be installed.

York City School Police and other volunteers work to build a Habitat for Humanity home in Manchester on Thursday, July 14, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Eight city school police officers made up the bulk of the volunteers laboring on the home at 935 Conewago Drive on Thursday.

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Muldrow said the department likes to do a community service project every summer, and this year most of the dozen officers in the department quickly decided this would be the right one.

Joe Byers, the site supervisor for Habitat for Humanity, said the organization started the project last month and is shooting to wrap it up by October. It's a "veteran build," he said — the home will go to a veteran and his or her family, though the organization hasn't yet chosen the recipient. Since June, volunteers, many of whom are veterans themselves or have vets in the family, have built the house from the ground up.

"It was a concrete slab," Byers said — one they had to rip out and replace.

York City School Police officers Quinn Johnson, left, and Angie Morales work on the main electrical box while working with fellow officers and volunteers to build a Habitat for Humanity home in Manchester on Thursday, July 14, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Several of the school police officers are veterans. Muldrow isn't, but his dad and brother both served in the armed forces. He said the city school district pushes its students to undertake community-service projects, so this is one way of leading by example.

"This is showing we're not too good to do it," he said.

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And they get to learn some skills along the way.

"I am the world's least-handy person," Muldrow deadpanned.

The timing for this project was unintentional, but, the chief said, it ended up being fortuitous, as tensions between police and communities of color have intensified recently, after police fatally shot two black men and then a black man killed five Dallas police officers and injured seven more during a protest of those shootings.

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"It's been a very rough week," said Muldrow, who is black.

Muldrow started out as a York City patrol cop, as his father was. Muldrow, who grew up in York City, was drawn to the community-relations aspect of policing quickly.

"I went the old-school style of neighborhood cop," he said.

After all, her reasoned, police are tasked with stopping people from doing behaviors society has deemed harmful. So putting people doing those behaviors behind bars is one way of doing that, but it's not always the best way of doing that.

York City School Police officer Gregory Seibert drills while working with fellow officers to build a Habitat for Humanity home in Manchester on Thursday, July 14, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"The badge is a platform," he said — a platform to give some authority to good you want to do.

He became one of the York City police officers in the city schools and then became chief of the district's police department when it was formed three years ago.

He shook his head at the comment that some people have complained about the police presence in the schools.

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"It's not the whole 'school-to-prison pipeline,'" he said. "I'm not trying to arrest people ... we aren't militarized — we aren't militant."

Much of their job involves building relationships with the kids who get in trouble and their parents, he said.

Summertime is when the school police train. The officers undertake a great deal of de-escalation and communications training, as well as learning how to deal with crises in the school. They don't carry firearms — "And that's by choice," Muldrow said — so they learn other ways of subduing violent students.

York City School Police officer Percy Anthony Powell Jr. works with fellow officers to build a Habitat for Humanity home in Manchester on Thursday, July 14, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The school police do carry Tasers as a last-ditch effort; they use those when normal officers would consider firing a gun, and not before then, he said.

Thursday afternoon was hot, a burning sun holding temperatures in the mid-90s. Muldrow took a break, swigging some water out of a gallon jug the group had been keeping in a cooler.

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He, like all the school police officers there, was clad in a lime-green shirt. All-caps letters on the back blared "SCHOOL POLICE," while the front had a rendering of the department's badge. On the left sleeve, there's a semicolon, a reference to Project Semicolon, which is a national effort to raise awareness about depression and suicide, which has been a big issue in York City schools this year. These T-shirts are new and are meant to further put kids and their parents at ease, he said.

"We're approachable," he said

— Reach Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.

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