DA: Police in York County are on the job, planning for the worst, sharing resources

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

York County's police officers are still on the job amid the COVID-19 pandemic — investigating crimes, making arrests, watching for traffic violations and doing everything they've always done, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said.

"Police departments are out as we speak arresting people," he said. "Even though stores are closed and streets are empty and the world looks a lot different today than it did three weeks ago, police are on the job."

Officers have made about 500 arrests in York County over the past two weeks, he said, even when that means possibly exposing themselves to the coronavirus.

"People need to know this is not free-pass time," Sunday said. "That’s not how this works."

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The DA said he and the county's police chiefs have always spoken often but that the COVID-19 crisis has ramped up their communication even more.

"We all talk individually daily," he said. "In addition to that, we have conference calls with every police chief, every leader of law enforcement agencies in the county ... to make sure we have total coordination at this critical time.

"A lot of what we do is coming up with creative methods to get the job done, follow the law and keep people safe in light of the social-distancing requirements that are in place," Sunday said.

Fully functional: "We are 100% functioning every single day," he said. "We have judges in this courthouse every day. We have police (on the streets) every day. We have prosecutors in the courthouse every single day. And that will never stop."

York County President Judge Joseph Adams listens as York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, left, speaks during a press conference at the commissioner's chambers Monday, March 16, 2020. President Commissioner Julie Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the county due to the Coronavirus. Bill Kalina photo

Much of the daily communication involves chiefs sharing information about what everyone is dealing with, according to the DA, who said there's also quite a bit of strategic planning for dealing with pandemic-related issues and worst-case scenarios.

Sunday said one of the first things he did was create a task force that "provides a legal method for departments to very rapidly deploy into other jurisdictions," to provide support to officers who need it.

"This gives them the ability to assist each other and really cuts through the red tape," he said.

Chief Dave Lash of Northern York County Regional Police confirmed there's a lot of information-sharing going on, and no drop in the number of people calling the department.

"At Northern Regional, it's business as usual," he said. "We're still stopping cars, still enforcing the law and communicating on a weekly — if not daily — basis with surrounding police departments, and assisting each other with needed supplies and information."

Incoming Northern York County Regional Police Chief Dave Lash speaks during a ceremony naming Lash chief at the department in Dover Township Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Sunday also said the county's law-enforcement leaders are discussing what strategies, contingency plans and changes to the system must happen "so we can adhere to social-distancing requirements but also get the job done and keep officers and the community safe."

Central booking unit: That includes changes to how the county's central booking unit runs, he confirmed.

Under normal circumstances, people taken to the central booking unit after being arrested by police are preliminarily arraigned on their charges and have bail set by a magisterial district judge. They also are fingerprinted and photographed by deputies before either being transported to York County Prison or released on bail.

Those arraignments were already being done by two-way video conferencing with the on-duty district judge, who would do a group of arraignments at one time. But COVID-19 concerns have changed that, according to York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber.

"The policy now is to get them out of here as quickly as possible," he said of defendants, and not hold people in groups while awaiting arraignments. "We're trying to practice good social distancing."

Also, the process has temporarily been modified to help keep deputies and the public safe, the sheriff said.

People arrested on lower-level offenses will receive summonses in the mail, rather than be taken to the central booking unit, according to Keuerleber.

Prints, mugshots: Those who are brought to the booking unit might not be fingerprinted or photographed at that time, and will have to return to the unit after pandemic restrictions are lifted to have that processing done, the sheriff said.

York Area Regional Police Officer Michael Schiffhauer makes a traffic stop on Cape Horn Road using ENRADD (Electronic Non Radar Device) in Windsor Township, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

That includes people whose fingerprints and mugshots are already in the system and people with bench warrants that require they be locked up, Keuerleber confirmed.

Some defendants are being printed and photographed, he confirmed.

Eventually, after things return to normal, "we'll be extremely busy in here, playing catch-up," Keuerleber said, and he said that no far none of his deputies has fallen ill.

"We'll do what we have to do to support police departments and keep our court staff, deputies and the public safe," he said. "We're all in it together."

Sunday said as far as he knows, "We have a healthy and robust law-enforcement community in York County."

He noted that people who need to report nonviolent minor crimes, such as theft of loose change from a vehicle or minor vandalism, will most likely have their reports taken by an officer over the phone, to avoid unnecessary contact.

"We would ask that people use common sense in their dealings with law enforcement," the DA said, meaning calling a police department's nonemergency number to report minor property crimes, rather than calling 911 and expecting an officer to come to the scene.

"We've worked to make sure police have all the proper protective equipment," he said, adding that "we're almost there."

He said it's important to do whatever can be done to keep police, deputies, corrections officers and others healthy, so they can keep York County safe.

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