DA: York County's new Law Enforcement Resource Center a priority
Police in York County have a new place to turn for crime-fighting resources ranging from evidence-collection equipment to cellphone analysis to wide-ranging training sessions.
"For me this was an absolute priority," York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said. "I made a commitment to get this done."
The Law Enforcement Resource Center has been open for about a month now, in a secret location in York City.
It's a one-stop shop for investigators, Sunday said, and is now home to the county's forensic lab, cyber lab, Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force, Quick Response Unit, Forensic Unit, county Intelligence Unit and Cyber Team, as well as conference and training rooms.
York City Detective Tim Shermeyer, who investigates fatal drug overdoses in the city, is also working from an office in the center. Former York City Police Chief Wes Kahley, now a county detective, is in charge of intelligence-gathering and also is based in the building.
The 16,000-square-foot building boasts a garage big enough to easily house the Forensic Unit's portable crime-scene RV. It also has a secure outdoor parking lot.
The vast size of the building gives the center room to grow, according to Sunday — but only if a new need should arise.
Lease covered: Sunday said that because the Drug Task Force is now based there and will be utilizing much of the facility, the cost to lease the building is entirely covered by the state Attorney General's Office.
The AG's office provides York County with roughly $156,000 a year to help fund and run the Drug Task Force, the DA said.
Most of the equipment in the Law Enforcement Resource Center was already owned by the county and was simply moved from other locations.
Sunday said it was made clear to him by law enforcement that York County needed a centralized location with investigative resources as well as opportunities for officers to share information and ideas.
"It quadruples the amount of activity because everyone feeds off each other," he said. "I've always wanted to put all these people in the same facility."
The DA said about 25 people work there daily and that the center went from idea to fruition in less than a year.
Collaboration: Assistant Chief York County Detective Jeff Spence serves as the de facto ringmaster of the center.
"There's no police department in this county that can be self-sufficient," he told The York Dispatch during a recent tour of the facility. "All these resources need to be shared. ... You can survive, but you're not going to thrive."
Spence said all York County crime victims deserve to have thorough investigations done by trained officers who are given the resources necessary to solve the case, despite the size of the police agency that serves them.
Properly trained officers from every police department in York County can use the facilities, meaning they can bring items to the center's forensic lab and use whatever equipment they need to find and collect physical evidence.
To that end, Spence organizes free training sessions for police officers in the county in everything from proper evidence collection to effective interviewing techniques to tips on testifying at trials, he said.
York County Detective Sgts. Scott James and Craig Fenstermacher oversee the day-to-day workings of the center, with James overseeing the forensics and cyber units and Fenstermacher in charge of the rest of it, including the staff.
"I think it's great," James said of the center.
Keeping up with technology: He said the cyber unit is particularly important for investigators because until recently, one officer was responsible for analyzing most of the electronic devices police around the county seized as evidence.
James said a police department can turn over a cellphone to the county's new cyber unit and have the results of the analysis in two to three weeks.
York County Detectives Roger Goodfellow and Tim Utley work in the cyber lab full time, Sunday said. Utley is a retired York City Police captain; Goodfellow is a retired Southern Regional Police detective.
"We need (to stay abreast of) technology or crimes won't get solved, and that's why this is so important," the DA said. He noted that cellphones "are a part of almost every (criminal) case that exists." That's because cellphones can be a trove of personal information about a criminal suspect.
The cyber unit also goes after online sexual predators and people sharing child pornography online, Sunday said.
The forensic lab is equipped so officers can examine, collect, document and package evidence to be sent to state police crime labs and other forensic labs for analysis, according to the DA.
'Enthusiastic partners': Sunday said he's grateful to the York County commissioners, who have been what he called enthusiastic partners in getting the Law Enforcement Resource Center up and running.
Five new positions were created for the center, Sunday said — two full-time county detectives for the Drug Task Force, one full-time county detective for digital forensic analysis and two civilian employees, a digital forensic analyst and a criminal intel analyst.
The two Drug Task Force positions were previously budgeted by the county, unrelated to the opening of the center, he said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.