York City commissioner: Neighborhood walks aren't for show, they reduce crime

Harper Ho
York Dispatch

York City's new police commissioner Michael Muldrow is looking to build a bridge between the men and women in blue at the York City Police Department and  the folks living in the neighborhoods and barrios of York City.

It's an effort build trust and establish mutual respect between the police and the policed, he said.

Muldrow's efforts include walking and talking, twice a week, with the community in neighborhoods throughout York.

About a dozen people showed up the evening of Dec. 8 for the inaugural "neighborhood impact walks," which kickstarted last week as part of York City's ongoing Group Violence Initiative. The group gathered in Muldrow's downtown office for a short introduction and briefing before everyone hit the streets.

"Across the country there is a disconnect with the community and law enforcement. It's not even just a York thing. It's everywhere," Muldrow said. "We unintentionally got to a place where we are — as officers — we now tend to be standoffish and aloof."

York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow, center, is joined by community members and of law enforcement personnel during a community impact walk along East Philadelphia Street Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. The purpose of the walk is to improve relations between residents and law enforcement. The walks take place every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. beginning at the York City Police Department. Bill Kalina photo

Muldrow, who was recently appointed York City's police commissioner, said he came up with the idea after reading research suggesting these types of interactions help reduce crimes. He also believes it builds trust between police and citizens, he said, which has waned through the years and manifested on the national stage in riots and protests when George Floyd died this year at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Discourse between police and the public, particularly the Black community and minorities in the low-income areas, haven't always been friendly. These groups have protested, decrying unfair treatment by police and asserting systemic racism exists within law enforcement. 

York City isn't entirely immune to the cause because the city also saw several mostly peaceful protests during the summer after Floyd's death. Muldrow said he doesn't think what's happening nationally is manifesting in York City. But he won't allow that to happen as long as he's in charge, he said.

Muldrow is focused on not only rebuilding any burned bridges in the community but also rebranding the department, he said.

He wants to show that officers are more than "just a badge and a uniform," he said

"It just has gotten to be so far removed that it was my goal once I was given this opportunity to put the brakes on it, take a step back, and go back and look at doing things in a more organic way," he said.

The neighborhood walks are part of this rebranding effort. They are open to the public and are scheduled every Tuesday and Thursday — weather and schedules permitting — from 6 to 8 p.m. Walkers meet at 5:45 p.m. in front of York City's police station, 50 W. King Street.

"It allows you to get into conversations and get into the minds and hearts of people just from the inherent nature of crossing paths with them," Muldrow said. "It's a transparent moment. You're at your most vulnerable. There's no disconnect dividing you from the public and the individuals. You're not either behind a 2,000-pound vehicle or steel car or barrier in anyway. You're exposed."

Muldrow referenced the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment, which was a major collaboration between the Philadelphia Police Department and researchers in the Department of Criminal Justice involving more than 200 police officers on foot beats around some of the city’s most violent corners during the summer of 2009. After three months, violent crime decreased by 23% relative to the comparison areas. 

"If I'm able to reduce on a much smaller scale, a much smaller city — if I'm able to reduce basically 25% of violent crimes in York just by having officers get and out and walk, why would I not try that," he said. "Think about what 25% would mean for a place like York."

York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow, center, greets Next Level Barbershop employee Willie Peterson at the East Philadelphia Street business during a community impact walk Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. Stuart Krise, a York High School teacher, right, and other community members joined Muldrow for the walk which is designed to improve relations between residents and law enforcement. Bill Kalina photo

Stuart Krise, a teacher at William Penn Senior High School, came out Dec. 8 despite the cold to show his support for Muldrow and the community. 

"I really respect what he's doing, and I saw this was going on," he said. "I thought I'd come and support him." 

Some of areas that get chosen for walks are the ones with recent crime activities. Some of the walkers at the first event went to the first block of West Jackson Street, where a shooting on Dec. 7 sent a 19-year-old man to the hospital. 

Margie Orr, 75, who resides near a shopping plaza on North Pine Street and East Philadelphia Street where shop owners said they've been having drug-related issues in the parking lot, asked Muldrow to come patrol her neighborhood.

"There's just so much going on in York. There's been so much going on," Orr said. "I just wanted them (tenants) to see him walking around in the neighborhood." 

Acting York City School Police Chief Quinn Johnson hugs Margie Orr at Delphia House Senior Apartments where Orr lives Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. Johnson participated in a community impact walk with York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow and community members along East Philadelphia Street. The purpose of the walk is to improve relations between residents and law enforcement. The walks take place every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. beginning at the York City Police Department. Bill Kalina photo

Muldrow greeted Orr with a hug in front of her apartment building like he greeted many of the shop owners and patrons he checked in with. Orr is a board member with York City School District, where Muldrow served as top cop until his recent appointment. 

Muldrow said he has seen both sides of the coin and walked in both sides' shoes. He's spent more than 20 years in law enforcement, a second-generation police officer who served as the chief of York City School District Police for over a decade. He's also a homegrown product of York.

"The thing that's unique for me (is) all 46 years has been spent right here, from me being reared and raised and spanked and chased home and being in fights and having teachers call my mom and going to people's houses," he said. "Everything was here in York. So I love York. I know the people; the people know me." 

Muldrow said he has learned the value of connecting with the community and is trying to get his officers on board because, at the end of the day, force isn't going to be the right approach when the department's 100-plus officers need the support of York City's 45,000 residents.

"When people know that you value them and trust them and you have their best interest at heart, they are more willing to do what you need them to do without you ever having to lay hands on them and throwing on handcuffs or arrest them," he said. 

Muldrow said he's eyeing other endeavors such as incorporating mental health crisis responders and exploring  a security camera surveillance system similar to one in Lancaster. 

"I'm trying to bring two families, two things that I care about, together," Muldrow said, adding this goal is not just professional, it's personal. "Although there's always going to be opposition, there's always going to be obstacles, but that's life. I expect it.

"Honestly, if I continue to do the right things, if we continue to do the right things, if my heart is in the right place, I believe God is going to take care of the rest."