Retiring No. Regional Police chief talks about lessons learned, evolving with the times
Retired Northern Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel said he knows his successor will have new ideas, but he expects some things to stay the same — primarily the department's community outreach and commitment to evolving as a force.
"We've withstood the test of time," he said of the Northern York County Regional Police Department, which formed in 1972. "No one in the county does it the way we do."
York County District Attorney Dave Sunday called Bentzel a great leader who will be missed.
"Simply put, Mark Bentzel's honor and integrity are second to none. Mark exemplifies every trait we expect in our public servants."
Bentzel was hired as a Northern Regional police officer on Jan. 5, 1987, then rose through the ranks and became chief in 2010.
He is an advocate of the regional policing model because, he said, it allows departments to do more work with fewer people and therefore save money. He said he believes York County should be moving more toward regionalization.
Asked what advice he hopes his successor, Chief Dave Lash, will take to heart, Bentzel didn't hesitate: Don't be afraid to listen to people and don't be afraid to fail.
Refusing to change means "you're never going to grow much," he said, adding that Lash "should be learning from the things I did wrong."
Bentzel said organizations don't grow if leaders surround themselves with yes men, and he said Lash is bright and will thrive in the post.
"We've learned lessons. Some we've learned the hard way," Bentzel said. "Sometimes the failures are more important than the successes."
Accountability: An an example, he cited the departmental rule that every 12 hours, platoon leaders must email the top brass an overview of what happened on their shifts.
"We're holding people accountable," Bentzel said. "If I don't care, they won't care."
He also recalled the advice given to him by his predecessor, 15-year chief Carl Segatti, who told him, "You can sleep after you retire as chief."
During Bentzel's tenure, Northern Regional has gone from having one school-resource officer to having five, he said.
At least 20 Spring Grove Area High School graduates are now in law enforcement, according to Bentzel, inspired by the relationships they had with school-resource officers.
Patrol officers are required to visit all of the 19 school buildings in the department's patrol territory, which gives them the chance to forge relationships and forces them learn the layout of schools so if something bad happens in a school, officers will know their way around that building, Bentzel said.
"We're far more connected to the community than we've ever been before," he said, and not just in schools. Northern Regional officers build relationships with people in a variety of ways, whether instructing mature-driver courses, running the county's only Law Enforcement Explorers Program or spending time with residents during National Night Out, according to Bentzel, who said the department is more transparent now than it has ever been.
First in county: Northern Regional was the first police department in York County to have officers carry Narcan/naloxone, which revives people who are overdosing on opioids.
Some York County residents believe overdosing addicts should simply be left to die, and Bentzel admitted that was his initial feeling, too.
"But you have to step back and say, 'What would I do if it was my son or daughter?'"
Some months, Northern Regional officers save 14 or 15 people from potentially fatal overdoses, he said, adding his officers have saved far more than 100 people, perhaps closer to 200 people.
"Heroin, by far, is the biggest issue I've seen as a police officer," he said.
There have been a few bad days, Bentzel acknowledged, but very few.
He said his worst day on the job was when 31-year-old Northern Regional Officer David Tome was fatally struck along Route 15 in Franklin Township on Oct. 21, 2008, while placing traffic cones along the highway to investigate an earlier crash.
"I could not fill one hand with the number of bad days I've had in 33 years," he said. "It's going to be hard to leave here. This has been my life.
"Am I going to miss it? More than anything in the world."
Bentzel said he'll most miss his fellow officers and "the way these police officers have matured and turned into leaders."
York County native: Bentzel, 54, was raised in Paradise Township, where he still lives with his wife, Kimberly. They have a son, Mason Bentzel of York County, and a daughter, Maxine Streicher, a Baltimore-based television journalist.
He also works for his family's farm and cattle business, Lincoln Highway Cattle Group, he said.
Bentzel graduated from Spring Grove Area High School, has an associate's degree in criminal justice from York College, and has a bachelor's degree in professional studies from Elizabethtown College.
He graduated from the FBI National Academy in 1994.
"My next goal is to be something longer than I've been a police officer," he said.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.