York City police, residents discuss violence, motorcycles during Coffee with a Cop

Maria Yohn
York Dispatch

Gun violence, illicit drugs and motorcycles racing on the streets were the issues of concern for residents who attended York City's first Coffee with a Cop event.

The event, held Saturday, April 14, at I-ron-ic Coffee Shop, 256 W. Philadelphia St., gave the public the opportunity to speak candidly and casually with York City interim Police Chief Troy Bankert and Sgt. Roger Nestor. The event was attended by close to a dozen residents.

York City interim Police Chief Troy Bankert looks on during a conversation with Samantha Dorm, of Spring Garden Township, during the first Coffee with a Cop event at I-ron-ic Coffee Shop and Art Boutique in York City, Saturday, April 14, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Drugs: York City resident Robin Tunney told the police officers that she's been witnessing more drug deals on Duke Street but was hesitant to call 911 for a nonemergency.

Bankert emphasized that the public should call 911 anytime they witness a drug deal.

"It's an emergency line, but let us decide what's an emergency and what's not. We determine that," he said. 

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Police prioritize calls, and a reported drug deal will fall behind other incidents, such as domestic disputes, he said. Also, it's unlikely that a police officer will be near the location of the reported drug deal in time to catch the people involved, he admitted.

However, police can use the time and location of the calls to determine a pattern of drug activity in a particular area and focus their efforts there.

Drug dealers are transient, he said, so it's important for police to track their movements throughout the city.

"They don't have stakeholder rights on any block for any length of time," Bankert said. 

York City Police Sgt. Roger Nestor, left, looks on as Michael Graff, 16, of Spring Garden Township, displays his York City Police trading card during the first Coffee with a Cop event at I-ron-ic Coffee Shop and Art Boutique in York City, Saturday, April 14, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Gun violence: Tunney also asked the police officers about the level of gun violence in the city and whether the majority of it is random or crime-related.

Tunney said she hadn't been concerned about shootings until recently, as she used to only hear them a few blocks away from her neighborhood. Now, the shootings are occurring closer to where she lives, and she told the officers that she won't go even go outside on the Fourth of July.

"I don't go outside because I can't tell the difference between fireworks and gunshots," she said. 

She also expressed concern for her safety, saying that the security she installed in her home can provide only a limited degree of protection.

"Is it isolated, or am I going to get shot in my house because somebody wanted to play gangster on the street?" she asked.

"We have very little random violence in the city," Bankert responded. 

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He admitted that random violence does exist but said it's rare and the vast majority of shootings occur between people who know each other.

"It's usually two people involved in some illicit or illegal activity," he said.

According to Bankert, gun violence in York City has actually decreased, as shooting incidents dropped by 50 percent from 2016 to 2017.

"We're not even close to having a shooting a day. Not even gunshots fired in a day," he said.

Paradoxically, homicides doubled in the city during the same time period, he said, a trend that is difficult to explain.

York City Police Sgt. Roger Nestor, left, examines a signed sketch of himself given to him by Imori Janvier, 13, of York City, during the first Coffee with a Cop event at I-ron-ic Coffee Shop and Art Boutique in York City, Saturday, April 14, 2018. Imori says that she might like to be a sketch artist or a paleontologist one day. Dawn J. Sagert photo

He cited scholars from the John Jay College of Criminal of Justice, located in New York City, whose research shows that when the overall number of shooting incidents drop, a city sees more homicides that are premeditated and well-planned.

"You're only getting the serious and committed shooters," he said.

York City Police are working with the college in their Group Violence Intervention initiative, which has a twofold purpose — to reinforce the message that guns bring intense police scrutiny and that help is available to those trying to get away from the street life.

Still, Bankert admitted that the numbers "are what they are" and the police need to respond accordingly.

"You do nothing, you get nothing," he said.

Half the shootings in 2017 were committed by juveniles, and so far the 2018 rate is close to 40 percent, he said. 

When asked how juveniles were getting ahold of the guns, he said they usually acquire them from their parents or out on the street.

York City currently has one police officer who is entirely dedicated to handling firearms violations, he said.

Motorcycle racing: Tunney and York City resident Jonelle Janvier spoke about the increasing problem of motorcyclists racing in the city. 

Bankert said the police rarely pursue motorcycles now because they're almost impossible to catch and chasing them encourages them to drive even more dangerously, resulting in the greater likelihood of an accident.

"It's a nuisance. We just want them to be safe and not bother the traffic," Bankert said.

Nestor added that one of the few proactive options the police have is observing video footage obtained from various business and property owners in the city. Police can use that footage to observe individuals, who are typically juveniles, driving recklessly in parking lots and other areas that are captured in the video.

Then they can find the identity of the juveniles and show the video to their parents.

However, he said, the method isn't always effective, and he spoke of one incident in which officers approached the parents of a teenager who was observed driving dangerously in a parking lot. A few days later, the teenager died in a motorcycle accident, Nestor said.

Chipping away at crime: The Coffee with a Cop program is one method of "chipping away at crime" by encouraging open communication between city residents and the police, according to Nestor. He said the police will continue to hold the program, which is open to everyone in the city, even if the event is not located in their particular neighborhood.

Nestor hopes to bring neighborhood associations and residents together to find solutions to decrease crime and improve the quality of life in the city.

"We want people to know that, 'Hey, we're people, too,'" he said. "We're having fun with it."