What York County police are seeing amid COVID-19 closures

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York City Police officer Michael Rykowski checks a locked door at a property on North Beaver Street while on patrol Monday, March 23, 2020. He and other police, fire and property management representatives were checking that businesses, schools and organizations were complying with state and city COVID-19 closure orders. Bill Kalina photo

As citizens hunker down at home and nonessential businesses remain shuttered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, police officers around York County are on the job — still responding to calls for help, making arrests and continuing with routine patrols, according to their chiefs.

Several local police chiefs who spoke with The York Dispatch said they haven't seen significant increases in domestic assaults or child abuse — the types of crimes that people might expect would rise when families are stuck at home for periods of time.

They also said that while they've had a few complaints about businesses remaining open in violation of Gov. Tom Wolf's shutdown order, all of those businesses have been deemed essential and therefore can remain open.

Every official who spoke with The York Dispatch for this article said nonessential businesses would first receive a warning before being cited for defying Wolf's order.

"We're taking a common-sense approach toward the enforcement of business closures," said Chief Dave Lash of Northern York County Regional Police, meaning his officers will first try to get a nonessential business to comply with the closure order before considering writing a citation.

Chief Dave Lash of Northern York County Regional Police

Despondent people: Fairview Township Police Chief Jason Loper said he's noticed a recent increase in contacts from, and about, those contemplating suicide.

"We're getting a number of calls where people are depressed and concerned to the point of (considering) suicide — not that we've experienced an increase in actual suicides," he said. "They're out of their jobs, they have no money, they can't pay their rent or their mortgage."

He said his officers connect despondent people to mental-health services and, if needed, take them to local hospitals at their request or at the request of family members.

"I can only suspect that if this continues, we are going to see an increase (in suicides), but who knows," Loper said. "This is brand-new territory."

On Monday, a 66-year-old woman fatally shot herself along a walking trail at Codorus State Park in West Manheim Township, according to the York County Coroner's Office.

Loper said total call volume for Fairview Township Police is down about 14% this month, but that translates to only about two fewer calls per day.

Chief Jason Loper of Fairview Twp. Police

Decrease in 'routine' calls: Lash said that while crime numbers in Northern Regional's coverage area seem to be holding steady compared with numbers from one year ago, routine service calls other than ambulance calls have decreased over the past week.

Routine service calls can include keys locked in vehicles, suspicious door-to-door solicitors, vehicles that have broken down on roadways and suspicious noises, he said.

"Those are down about 50%," Lash said. He said he suspects that's because residents don't want to unnecessarily expose themselves — or officers — to infection.

The number of ambulance calls in Northern Regional's territory is up substantially, the chief said, noting there were 52 more ambulance calls so far in March 2020 than during the same three-week period in 2019. Lash said it's too early to say what's causing the increase.

The number of arrests by Northern Regional officers is staying fairly consistent, according to the chief.

Domestic disputes: Springettsbury Township Police Lt. Brian Wilbur said his department has seen a recent increase in domestic disputes.

Springettsbury Twp. Police Lt. Brian Wilbur

"In March 2019, we had 17 reported domestics," he said. "So far in March 2020, we're up to 25 already, and there's still seven days left in March."

He described them as typical domestic disputes and said he's unsure if the increase can be tied to citizens isolating themselves at home.

"I'm sure tensions are a little higher than they'd normally be," Wilbur said.

Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo said his department also has seen a slight increase in domestic dispute-related calls.

Rizzo said the total number of calls his officers are responding to hasn't noticeably increased.

Chief Bryan Rizzo of Northeastern Regional Police

Officer Derek Hartman, York City Police spokesman, said his department also hasn't noticed a significant increase in calls, whether those are domestics, child abuse or people considering harming themselves.

"If anything, I would say that presently, our calls are down a bit," he said. "There's been a decrease in reports."

Protective gear: On Saturday, West Manchester Township Police Chief John Snyder issued a news release to the public asking for donations of N95 masks, Tyvek suits and other personal protective equipment.

Three days later, on Tuesday, Snyder sent out an update, thanking citizens for donating items.

Chief John Snyder of West Manchester Twp. Police

West Manchester officers now have N95 masks and other protective equipment in their patrol cars, he said. Some was acquired by the department, but the public's donations helped, Snyder said.

"Our service hasn't changed. We've asked for some accommodations from citizens and ... we're practicing social distancing," Snyder said, including taking complaints by phone where possible.

"The officers have been great," he said. "They're dedicated employees and I'm lucky to have them."

All police officials interviewed for this article said their departments have enough protective gear for the time being.

Keeping it together: Snyder said he hasn't seen an increase in total calls to his department, or specific increases in domestic disputes or other specific crimes.

He said that could be because township residents have so far "kept their act together."

Loper said he received a call from someone thanking Fairview Township officers for being visible and making citizens feel safer.

"Their efforts are not going unnoticed," he said.

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