York City Police Chief Kahley to retire at year’s end

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

After nearly three decades of service as a member of the York City Police Department, Chief Wes Kahley is set to retire at the end of 2017.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey recognized Kahley Monday, Dec. 4, for his 29 years of service during a ceremony to swear in seven new officers, and the city’s social-media accounts confirmed Kahley’s “upcoming retirement” shortly after.

Kahley, a West York native, has served as the city’s police chief since January 2010, when he was chosen by Bracey to replace former Commissioner Mark Whitman.

He is expected to leave his position at the end of the month as Bracey hands over executive control of York City to Mayor-elect Michael Helfrich.

Mayor C. Kim Bracey presents Chief Wesley Kahley with an official recognition and the key to the city during a swearing-in ceremony for York City's newest police officers, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. Chief Kahley will retire at the end of the year after 29 years with the department. John A. Pavoncello photo

Helfrich, who has said he will wait until after his inauguration to name his administrative officials, thanked Kahley for his service Monday, Dec. 4, and said he was not surprised by the announcement, with rumors rife during the transition period.

Helfrich said he will now “get to work finding his replacement,” noting he will look for someone who sees the department “as a force to serve and protect all of the community.”

The city’s next police chief will focus “on improving relationships between the people of the city and our police” while making “every effort to make our police force more diverse and more representative of the population of York,” Helfrich said.

Kahley and Bracey did not return calls seeking information and comment on Kahley’s upcoming retirement.

Rise to the top: After launching his York City Police career in October 1988, Kahley went on to serve in a number of leadership roles.

By 2001, Kahley was serving as a detective and the department’s expert on street gangs, a focus he took on as a sergeant in the early 1990s. 

As the department’s leading voice on gangs, Kahley in 2002 took on the role of commanding the Street Crime Reduction Unit — better known as the Red Shirts — which was trained to recognize tattoos, clothing, graffiti and other gang-related signals and symbols.

After reaching the rank of lieutenant, Kahley took over control of the York City Police detectives division in 2004 and acted as the department’s ranking officer on the York County Quick Response Team, on which he served for 15 years, including a three-year stint as commander.

Kahley then spent a year supervising the department’s Major Crimes Unit before his January 2006 promotion to York City Police captain.

Later that year, Kahley played an instrumental role in establishing the original Route 222 Initiative anti-gang, anti-crime program aimed at shutting down illegal operations in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Kahley graduated from York College in 2004 and from the FBI National Academy in 2007.

Tenure: As police chief, Kahley put an emphasis on community policing, though those efforts were curtailed for a time by staffing issues in the department.

A day after being named acting police chief in January 2010, Kahley called for his officers to forge better relationships with residents and asked for cooperation in return, echoing Bracey’s calls to build “mutual trust.”

On the same day he was named as permanent police chief in April 2010, Kahley heralded the start of a three-officer neighborhood enforcement unit in the Village East neighborhood, modeled on units already in the West End and Olde Town East neighborhoods. The department also launched a unit in the Northeast neighborhood that month. 

Those units remained in place for more than five years until temporary staffing shortages forced the department to shift its neighborhood units back onto patrol in January 2016. The department reopened its West End unit last October.

For nearly half of his tenure as chief, Kahley oversaw the police department’s $5 million-plus takeover of the old York City Hall, with construction and renovations taking place between 2012 and 2015.

The conversion allowed the department to gain accreditation from the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and build a training center, while also creating better storage for evidence.

While Kahley was in charge, the York City Police Department broke away from the York County Drug Task Force for more than four years because of a fractured relationship between the two entities. 

After playing a key role in the schism, Kahley and York County District Attorney-elect Dave Sunday reached an understanding in July that saw two York City officers join the drug task force full-time.

As police chief, Kahley is York City’s highest paid public official, earning $110,721 in 2017.