York City's police chief promises tenacity, vigilance, adaptability

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Minutes after being sworn in as York City's police chief, Troy Bankert sat down in his office and spoke about some of his goals and ideas while surrounded by his family.

One thing he made clear is that he views tenacity as crucial in law enforcement's ability to respond efficiently — including to street violence and the heroin epidemic, which the chief cited as his department's two primary issues.

"When we find a new problem, we'll try something. If it fails, we'll try something else," Bankert told The York Dispatch. "Criminal justice isn't math — there's no absolute answers. This is an ongoing experiment, and that's the way we have to approach this. But doing nothing, we get nothing."

York City Police Chief Troy Bankert is surrounded by family after he accepted the position during a police ceremony at York City Hall Monday, June 11, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

Bankert, 47, was raised in the York and Hanover areas and has been with the York City Police Department since 1999. He rose through the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and captain before being named interim police chief in January — and now, permanent chief.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich administered the police officer's oath to Bankert during a York City Police ceremony on Monday, June 11, at City Hall.

The chief's wife, Mary, their 17-year-old daughter Kate, his mother, Donna Bankert, and other family members stood with him as he was sworn in.

Donna Bankert dabbed at her eyes and, afterward, became choked up again as she spoke about her son.

"I've always been proud of Troy," she said. "I'm even more proud of the man he's become."

Humble, fair: Asked what qualities her son possesses that will serve him well as chief, Donna Bankert didn't hesitate.

"He has humility and he's fair," she said. "He looks at all angles of a situation before making a decision. He's very consistent."

Also, she said, Bankert has a good sense of humor. But the chief said he didn't know why residents should care about him.

York City Police Chief Troy Bankert is outfitted with upgraded bars by his wife Mary and mother Donna, right, during a police ceremony at York City Hall Monday, June 11, 2018. Bankert accepted the honor during the ceremony. Bill Kalina photo

"The York City Police Department isn't about me," the chief said, adding that what York City residents should know about him is that he's urging people to help city officers by providing tips and cooperation, both in person and to the city's anonymous crime tip texting service.

"I want (citizens) to feel that they are part of the solution," Bankert said. "The York City Police Department want to be part of the ... community, not apart from the community."

To that end, Bankert said he will join the York Opioid Collaborative, formerly called the York County Heroin Task Force.

"I'm just going to offer myself to whatever they may feel I can help with," he said, adding the heroin issue is an epidemic that "should be approached as a public health crisis."

Major Crimes Unit: He also created a Major Crimes Unit in his department, made up of narcotics and vice detectives and headed up by Detective First Class Andrew Shaffer. That's in addition to having two officers serving with the York County Drug Task Force, he said.

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The unit will focus on heroin trafficking as well as major crimes, he said. But primarily, they will partner with federal agencies including the FBI; U.S. Marshals Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and Drug Enforcement Administration.

Those federal partners will be able to handle offender-based investigations, according to Bankert.

"(Let's say) we have an individual who we don't have charges on, but we know he's active in shootings or in some sort of violence. (Feds) can do an investigation," the chief said. "They have the time, they have the resources and they have the experience to do those specific investigations."

He said the idea is to target chronic offenders while law enforcement is still ahead of the game.

Being vigilant: Criminals don't stick to one playbook, meaning police must be prepared for criminals to change their game, he said.

"And that is the consistent part of law enforcement," Bankert said. "As soon as something works we're going to double down on it, and as soon as something stops working, we're going to set it aside."

The chief said making sure the police department is responding in the best way over the long haul will take vigilance on the part of his command staff.

"If you're not consistent with looking at data, evidence-based policing, and other avenues of what's going on, you're not able to make those adjustments," Bankert said. "And if you make those adjustments every two or three years, it's too late. It needs to be quicker."

Helping victims: Already committed to the Group Violence Intervention initiative, the chief said that idea has been further expanded within the police department with the creation of the Community Police Response to Victims of Violence.

"That (program) addresses the issue of trauma" to crime victims, their families and survivors, he said. "The idea is, trauma can be an inducement to further violence ... and we have seen that."

So by figuring out the trigger to one shooting, police can then work to prevent retaliatory shootings, according to Bankert. And that is one way to reduce street violence, he noted.

"We cannot enforce our way out of any problem," Bankert said, adding that stopping street violence must be a collective effort on the part of police and residents.

"Law enforcement cannot do this alone."

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.