Chief: York County's officer of the year flies 'under the radar'
- Hellam Twp. Staff Sgt. Drew Heistand said his connections in the community make him feel that he's "part of something bigger" than himself.
Staff Sgt. Drew Heistand isn't the kind of police officer who craves attaboys, according to his chief.
"(He is) a very humble and intelligent man who is always working hard behind the scenes," Hellam Township Police Chief Doug Pollock said — a cop who prefers to "fly under the radar" and is uncomfortable with praise.
So Heistand's response was predictable when he learned he was named York County's officer of the year for 2016 by the Police Heritage Museum. He deflected attention, then spoke about the accomplishments of his fellow officers and his chief.
"Why me? Our officers do tremendous things all the time," Heistand said. "We just keep pushing forward to make the department better. ... Chief Pollock changed the climate and culture here for the better, and we have fantastic support from the community."
According to Pollock, Heistand manages the department's aggressive driving, Safe Kids Pennsylvania and Buckle Up Pa. programs, and also oversees traffic-safety programs for schoolchildren. He secures grant funds for those programs, manages that funding and handles all the paperwork required for departments that participate in statewide or national programs.
The sergeant acts as administrator for all the department's operating systems, its social-media outreach, vehicle maintenance, state crash-reporting system, dashboard and body cameras, and is overseeing the department's effort to become accredited, according to Pollock.
Active in community: Heistand teaches schoolkids about bicycle safety, teaches Junior Achievement to elementary-school students and gives safety talks to the elderly at his church, his chief said.
"I see myself as an introvert, but I like meeting different people and helping them out when I can," Heistand told The York Dispatch.
Pollock, in the nomination letter he wrote to the Police Heritage Museum, said that when he became chief in spring of 2016, the department had "a long list of problems," and more kept coming.
"I knew that Staff Sgt. Heistand had not been given the opportunity to showcase his abilities and contribute to the department in ways that I knew he could," Pollock wrote. "I told (him) that he was no longer on a leash and he was free to put his talents to work, that I viewed him as a partner, not a subordinate."
Heistand "picked up that ball and ran for the end zone," exceeding all expectations, Pollock said. The chief said his second in command "keeps all of the small gears of this department turning in the right direction every single day."
About the sergeant: The 39-year-old grew up in Manheim, Lancaster County. He holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in strategic leadership, both from Elizabethtown College.
Until about four years ago, Heistand was a midget race-car driver with numerous career wins in the American Racing Drivers Club, including being an ARDC champion.
He has been a Hellam Township officer for 14 years and was a Wrightsville police officer for a year before that. He and wife Billie Jo live in the township with their two daughters, ages 8 and 10.
"I love this community," Heistand said. "I know so many people here that I feel like I'm part of something bigger. ... We have fantastic support from the community."
The sergeant said he takes a great deal of satisfaction watching younger officers develop policing skills and watching them succeed in their assignments.
Hopes to ease pain: Heistand and his wife recently attended a religious-based law-enforcement retreat, which he said made him think hard about the toll the job takes on officers and their families.
"I was overwhelmed to see the pain some officers and their families are facing," he said, adding that he believes part of his mission will be to help those families in some way.
"I'm not exactly sure how I can help, but I just know I have to," Heistand said, adding he'll start by continuing his education in that area.
He said being respectful, professional and compassionate to people is an important part of law enforcement.
"I think society has grown intolerant of bad cops, which — as a good cop — I think is a good thing," he said.
Runner-up: York County's officer of the year runner-up for 2016 is Southwestern Regional Police Officer Josh Poplin, who happens to be Heistand's close friend and a former Hellam Township officer.
"He's phenomenal and hard-working," the sergeant said of Poplin.
Poplin, 28, of North Codorus Township, has been with Southwestern Regional Police for three years. He excels at traffic enforcement and arresting criminals, according to Southwestern Chief Greg Bean.
In 2016, he pulled over about 500 vehicles and solved 58 criminal cases, Bean said. Also last year, Poplin was honored by the PA DUI Association with a "Top Gun" award, given to officers who have made more than 50 impaired-driving arrests in a year.
"Josh is special in that his communication skills are really good," Bean said. "He's able to talk to all types of people when they're having a bad day."
Even people he arrests have good things to say about how Poplin treated them, the chief said.
Award of valor: York County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Lutz received an award of valor from the Police Heritage Museum for his quick action after being shot by a fugitive on June 9, 2016.
Lutz, 36, was shot in the face at point-blank range and also the thumb while serving a warrant on 38-year-old James Nickol in the 900 block of East Philadelphia Street in York City.
Lutz returned fire, fatally wounding Nickol.
York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber has praised Lutz's bravery, tenacity and ability to quickly take decisive action despite the fact that blood was gushing from his face.
Lutz, who was hired as a deputy in 2011, is a 1999 graduate of Red Lion Area High School. He served in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard from 1999 to 2014, spending a year in combat in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.