8 Can't Wait: York City Police brass say they're making reforms to build community trust

Harper Ho
York Dispatch

Nine months after thousands of Yorkers joined nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody, York City’s top cop touted his department’s compliance with 8 Can’t Wait, a set of best practices cited by police reformers.

"The York City Police Department is proud to say that all eight recommended policy items have been formally adopted and are now written into the police department’s policies," York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow said in a March news release.

However, the organization behind 8 Can’t Wait says York City stands at three out of the eight as it reviews the updated policy. 

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York City's page on the 8 Can't Wait website was last updated Oct. 19, 2020, and shows the department meets only three out of eight on the list. York City Police made its use-of-force policy public for the first time in June 2020, and that old policy was what 8 Can't Wait reviewed and used to score the department.

"We have a rubric for the department, and it's three of eight," said Campaign Zero manager Katie Ryan, who confirmed she received a copy of York's updated policy on Monday. She said the organization will review it to make sure it meets all of the eight recommendations and get back to York City Police.

Campaign Zero launched the campaign in June in response to Floyd's death and has since pushed for police departments nationwide to review and reform their use-of-force policies to include its eight recommendations. 

8 Can't Wait's page for York City.

Those recommendations are:

  1. Ban chokeholds and strangleholds.
  2. Require de-escalation.
  3. Require a warning before shooting.
  4. Require that all alternatives be exhausted before shooting.
  5. Require officers to intervene when excessive force is being used.
  6. Ban shooting at moving vehicles.
  7. Establish a Force Continuum.
  8. Require comprehensive reporting.

York City Police spokesperson Lt. Dan Lentz said again this week that the department is in compliance and that he recently sent Ryan the new policy for review.

"Those items on the 8 Can't Wait are now in our policies. We have made the necessary changes," he said. "It's pretty straightforward. Our goal is to let the community know that we are a professional police department and our intention is to do the right thing in hopes that we can gain the community's trust, because at the end of the day, there needs to be a trusting relationship." 

Last week, a jury convicted Derek Chauvin — the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes — on all charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other former officers who were at the scene on May 25, 2020, are awaiting trial on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Some of 8 Can't Wait's suggestions such as "ban on chokeholds and strangleholds," and "use of force continuum" were already in place in the York City Police Department, Lentz said.

About 50 people attended the United 4 Change rally at Continental Square Tuesday, April 27, 2021. The goal of the rally was to bring community members together after the conviction of Derek Chauvin. The rally called for public engagement to create an end to racial injustice. The Confronting Racism Coalition among other groups sponsored the event. Bill Kalina photo

The York City Police Department revised its policies in January to include expanded and specific language for "duty to intervene" and "require de-escalation," he said. All officers then underwent training beginning in February and had to sign off that they understood the updated policy.

"The duty to intervene — you know it's always been the standard practice but we've never had it in a formalized policy for it, but we do now," he said. "If it's ever discovered that somebody (an officer) didn't do that, we have official policy saying that this is against the rules of conduct and they can be disciplined."

Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow on Tuesday echoed Lentz's message, saying that the department complying with 8 Can't Wait was not only a necessity for the community but also the right thing to do.

"I'm so proud of this department for the way they stepped up. I felt, we all felt, it was important that we do this, and take these steps towards the reforms the community needs to see," Muldrow said. "And do it because we want to, because it's the right thing to do, rather than waiting to make the changes after we're ordered or mandated to do so."

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said Tuesday that the most important item the city completed was probably duty to intervene — which he said is "making sure that we are watching our own and we are reporting our own" as a way to self-evaluate.

"It's day-to-day process. There's a lot that we are dealing with," he said. "We just have to stay vigilant, and I need the community to work with me — as many have been — to let me know if they feel like they have been in any way disrespected by our police officers."

Helfrich said that, as far as he knows, with the updated policy, the city is in full compliance with 8 Can't Wait.

Ryan, Campaign Zero’s manager, said police departments have been receptive to changing policies to boost trust in communities.

"It's been the largest reduction and restriction in the power of the police that we know of and is continuing to work its way both into local legislatures and statewide legislation," she said.