York City Police's 3 community outposts reopen, with COVID-19 restrictions
Three police outposts in York City — where children and adults are welcome to have a snack, play games, discuss neighborhood issues and ask officers questions — have been reopened, albeit with COVID-19 restrictions.
The outposts, which closed in March, reopened Mondayon a limited basis and are requiring visitors to wear face masks and have their temperatures taken, according to Officer Derek Hartman, spokesperson for the York City Police Department.
Occupancy limits will be set by city fire officials because of the pandemic, he said.
The Wellington outpost, at 780 E. King St., will be open Mondays and Tuesdays from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., according to Hartman, and the outpost at 455 S. Duke St. will be open Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays during the same hours.
The Salem Square outpost, at 596 W. Princess St., will be open Monday through Friday, Hartman said.
Last Tuesday, Joan Henney, youth and community outreach coordinator for the department, had the air conditioner blasting and snacks laid out on tables for neighbors at the Wellington outpost. A mural on one of the walls is decorated with handprints of children and officers.
Family: "I love my job," Henney said. "I was born and raised here. This whole community is my family."
Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, York City community resource officer Jerri Zimmerman would bring about nine kids to the Wellington outpost daily, according to Henney.
The children completed homework, received help with their schoolwork when needed, interacted with police officers and socialized with each other, Henney said. There are toys for younger children as well.
Zimmerman, a lifelong community activist, has also used the nearby playground for her youth exercise program, which Henney described as a youth boot camp focused on keeping young people healthy and active.
Zimmerman and the city's two other part-time community resource officers, Brenda Brady and Michael Muñoz, remain furloughed for now because of the pandemic, Hartman confirmed. Brady works at the South Duke Street outpost; Muñoz works at Salem Square's outpost.
Other outreach efforts, such as youth bowling and programs at Martin Library and the York YWCA, have had to be canceled because of the pandemic, according to Hartman.
"It's devastating," Henney said.
'We're here': But that doesn't mean city police have stopped community outreach efforts, Hartman said.
Officer Alex Nova is one of the city's community policing officers and does a great job forging connections with the community, according to Hartman.
Nova said he tries to engage citizens in a positive way.
"I let them know we're here for them," Nova said, adding he finds the job of working with the community both rewarding and fun.
Officers don't simply hang out in the three outposts, Nova said. Instead, an officer will stop in every outpost multiple times a day, ideally every hour.
When young people are there, they always have lots of questions for the officers, according to Henney.
"That's the highlight of their day," she said.
Call him 'Coach': Many of York City's kids and teens already know Nova, but not as "Officer Nova."
"They still call me 'Coach,'" he said, because he's coached baseball at William Penn Senior High School and for York City Little League.
"Community outreach has always been important, but how it's done has changed," Hartman said, noting he has created an Instagram account for York City Police because, as some kids say, "Facebook is for old people."
Both Nova and Hartman said they find it rewarding building relationships with city residents, helping them navigate neighborhood issues and simply getting to know people in the community they serve.
Before COVID-19 closures began, the officers visited every York City school and other places and groups where city kids and adults gather, they said.
"If there's a shooting, we'll go out and walk the area," Nova said, to reassure residents and listen to their concerns. "They're happy we're out there."
He said Police Commissioner Osborne "Moe" Robinson III has made it clear he wants community officers to engage with citizens every day, and in meaningful ways.
Hartman recalled speaking with a group of young people on Miller Lane — just a few blocks from where an armed and fleeing home-invader took a shot at him, but missed.
They all took pictures together and when Hartman told the youths that he and other officers are here to protect them, the youths replied, "We're here to protect you, too."
"That was very powerful for me," he said.
For more information about community policing in York City, go to www.yorkcity.org, click on "Departments," then select "Police Department," then click on "Police Community Services."
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.