Neighborhood policing units back in York City's west end

Sean Philip Cotter

York City's violence-plagued west end again has a neighborhood policing unit.

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley and Mayor Kim Bracey on Tuesday afternoon announced that the former Gus' Bar at 594-596 W. Princess St. is starting operations as a community-policing outpost.

"We're excited about the fact that we're able to bring our police officers back to this neighborhood," Bracey said.

Kahley said the outpost will be staffed by three officers and a sergeant. Their hours will vary by what they're doing on a given day. There won't be officers there around the clock normally, but they'll switch things up to make sure they interact with as many people as possible and keep criminals off balance, the chief said.

"These officers will handle everything from small quality-of-life issues to issues such as shootings and homicides," he said.

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Kahley said there were community policing units in the area for a long period of time until January of this year, when the department had to shift its neighborhood officers back onto patrol after retirements and other personnel matters temporarily diminished that division. But now that the department's been able to bring some new officers on, it has enough officers to restaff some of the outposts around the city.

The chief said the west end of the city has seen a significant amount of violence this year.

"There's no coincidence things spiked here when the officers aren't here," he said. He noted that the number of calls for police in the area went down 44 percent the last time a community-policing outpost was set up in the area; that included a 47 percent reduction in shootings, he said.

In addition to the former Gus', an outpost in the southern part of the city will open in the near future, Kahley said.

Plans: Kahley said one of the first tasks in the west end will be working on the gates the city put in many of the breezeways between row homes in 2013. He said the officers will work to fix some of them up, lock them and work with residents to keep them maintained.

"Crime prevention through environmental design," Kahley calls it — closing off the small, dark breezeways that can afford criminals a space for illicit dealings or an escape route from the police.

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As the mayor and chief spoke briefly, a group of kids from Logos Academy looked on and clapped, as did several adult residents and local officials, such as city council Vice President Michael Helfrich, council members Sandie Walker and Henry Nixon, acting economic and community development director Shilvosky Buffaloe and a dozen police officers.

"This is really a community coming together," said Bill Faron, president of the Salem Square Community Association.

Members of the neighborhood association brought along a printout of The York Dispatch's front page from July 12, 2011, when the paper reported that York City had purchased the building that had housed Gus', which Kahley called a nuisance bar.

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Gail Reed, the office manager from the Salem Square organization, was holding it. She never lived in that part of town when Gus' was open, but she's heard horror stories. People are glad it's closed, she said, but that's not solving everything, of course. After all, among other assaults, two people were shot to death in the west end in the last few months, and a man suffered a gunshot wound just down the block from Gus' on Sunday.

"We are going to take back our neighborhood again," Reed said.

— Sean Cotter covers York City for The York Dispatch. Contact him or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.