Northern Regional's chief on mislaid guns, beefed-up patrols, skid-loader assault
Police Chief Mark Bentzel, of Northern York County Regional Police, reflects on a 33-year career in law enforcement as he reaches retirement. York Dispatch
Northern York County Regional's police chief said his department has seen increases in certain crimes over the past month but that it's unclear how much COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are affecting specific crimes.
"It drew my attention that certain types of crimes are up during a period of time when people are cooped up at home with each other ... and facing pressures of not having an income," Chief Dave Lash said. "Is all that (fueling) their frustration and causing them to be more violent?"
The number of felony aggravated assaults investigated by Northern Regional jumped 700% in April, compared with April 2019, he said.
There were seven aggravated assaults reported to Northern Regional between April 1 and 27 this year, and zero reported during that time period last year, according to Lash.
Five were domestic-related and involved victims being choked; all of them escaped serious injury, the chief said.
They include a case in which a Conewago Township man angry with people living in his home used a skid loader to tear down an exterior wall of his house, which is now being held up by support beams. He was criminally charged and is free on bail.
Lash confirmed that officers have been called back to the man's home "for additional problems" since the skid-loader incident.
'Unsettling trend': "It seems to be an unsettling trend that is occurring during our current world situation," he said of the felony assaults. "Whether it's the result of (COVID-19) ... people can determine that on their own."
Simple assaults, by comparison, have not increased from April 2019 to April 2020, according to the chief.
Lash noted that complaints of people violating protection-from-abuse orders have jumped 300% from April 2019 to April 2020, which amounts to three violations reported last month and none reported in April 2019.
Harassment by communication reports are up 900%, he said — nine from April 1 to 27 this year and none in April 2019. Those are cases in which someone threatens or harasses someone via phone, email, text or social media.
Northern Regional's total call volume in April was down 17%, said Lash.
Six forgotten guns: Between April 1 and 27, Northern Regional officers recovered six mislaid firearms, as opposed to zero in April 2019.
"They were all legally registered weapons belonging to average, law-abiding citizens," Lash said. "People (are) leaving them behind in rental cars and hotel rooms."
Lash said that could suggest people not used to carrying weapons are now arming themselves.
Also, he said, officers are finding and seizing illegal guns during traffic stops, mostly in the possession of people with felonies and other convictions that preclude them from owning firearms. Weapons violations were up 300% last month from the same time period in 2019, he said.
Crashes are down 55% and requests to assist motorists are down 50%, which suggests people are abiding by the state's stay-at-home order, Lash said.
On patrol: With schools closed, five Northern Regional officers who are school-resource officers are now doing patrol and other work.
"We have a plethora of police officers working right now," Lash said — many of them assigned to patrol duties. People who are speeding and otherwise violating traffic laws are still being pulled over, he said.
Crimes of fraud, including identity theft and embezzlement, were up 86% in April compared with a year ago, but the number of reported attempted scams dropped by about half, according to the chief. He said it's possible fewer people are calling police about scam attempts.
Drug overdoses and the use of naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioids, are both abnormally high, he said, and mental-health calls have increased by 25%.
"I think we're encountering a lot of frustration among our citizens," Lash said. "This isn't over yet. People need to stay calm and find different ways to release their frustrations."
214 square miles: The Northern York County Regional Police Department serves 85,000 people living in nine townships and two boroughs, Lash said.
The department patrols 214 square miles of York County and has 62 sworn officers, the chief said.
So far, none of his officers has contracted COVID-19, Lash said.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.