York mayor's choice for next top cop says his life revolves around the city
The York City community already knows the man poised to become its next police commissioner — he was raised and schooled in the city and received a firsthand education watching his father, a career York City officer, and his mother, who worked for city mayors.
"When I think about city government, I actually think of being 5 years old and walking to City Hall with my big brother to meet my mom," Michael Muldrow said. "I remember this older white lady meeting us at the front door."
She guided Muldrow and his brother to her office, took off their shoes, warmed up their feet and gave them hot chocolate, he said, but he didn't realize at the time who she was.
He later learned she was sitting York City Mayor Elizabeth Marshall. His mom, Linda Muldrow, was confidential secretary to Marshall and to Mayor William Althaus.
Muldrow — who has been chief of the York City School District Police for 12 years — has no shortage of such old memories, he said, and no shortage of new ones either.
"Everything in my life continues to revolve around the city," the 45-year-old told The York Dispatch. "The city, the school district, the police department — all of that has been everything for me. There's just something about York. No matter where you go and how far you get from York, people still stay connected."
Those connections helped mold Muldrow into the man he is today, he said: A dreamer who wears his heart on his sleeve. An "idea guy" and "hug dealer" who cares deeply about making York City a better, safer place.
"You can't create change from the sideline and you can't lead from the back," he said. "My goal is to try to bring together two things that I love — the city and the York City Police Department. They're both my family, and it’s my goal to get them both back to the dinner table again."
York City cop: From 2000 to 2007, he was a York City police officer and said he's proud he was able to do the job and still keep close, respectful relationships with those he grew up with.
"I tried to give my best daily on every single call and tried to hang on to that humanity – (that) this could be my wife or mom or brother," Muldrow said, adding he cherishes the three years he and his dad served on the force at the same time.
Retired Officer Thomas "Mo" Muldrow counseled his son to treat people with respect, saying, "Leave a man with dignity and it will carry you through a career," Muldrow recalled.
Muldrow ticked off the names of police officers during a recent interview, saying they were like family members.
"I was surrounded by all these people who were my heroes, like big brothers and uncles to me. On top of that, my father was there," he said, noting that in some respects, the city police department "raised me."
Muldrow said he learned being a police officer is "the ultimate in social service," because the job allows officers to be problem-solvers and to provide help and reassurance to people in crisis and pain.
'I want to serve': "That's what I took from watching my dad all those years. And I thought to myself, 'I can do this,'" he said. "Because I wanted to help people. I want to serve the community."
At age 21, Muldrow started working as a teacher's aide and hall monitor in the York City School District. He, his brother (recently retired Naval Commander Thomas Muldrow Jr.) and his parents all grew up in York City and graduated from William Penn Senior High School.
Muldrow and wife Nakesha Muldrow — who is WellSpan Health's vice president of access and scheduling — have five children, all grown, and two grandchildren.
The couple will be moving to an apartment in York City, Muldrow said.
Muldrow said he's taking a hands-off approach to the commissioner post until he learns whether York City Council approves him for the position. In the interim, he said, he's received congratulations and support from city officers and city residents alike.
"It's been overwhelming," he said. "I feel thoroughly embraced."
Muldrow said becoming chief of the city school district's police department gave him the opportunity to build something, "and be in charge of shaping, on a philosophical level, how a police agency functions."
Idea guy: He already has plenty of ideas for the York City Police Department, assuming he's confirmed by council, he said — changes he hopes could inspire a new generation of kids to embrace policing as a career the way he did.
"You've got to get people interested again, and you have to do the same thing that was done for me — make a person believe it’s possible," Muldrow said. "I believed becoming a York City police officer was possible and a viable career. For me, it was tangible and real. But with more separation (between police and the public), we kind of lost that over the years."
Muldrow said if he becomes commissioner, "I'm going to build an entity that … remembers people come first, and everybody makes mistakes and everyone's deserving of a little grace sometimes."
That means both citizens and police officers, he said, and it can happen if the police department engages in meaningful ways with the community.
"It's not rocket science," he said. "It's about going back to the way it used to be."
'Get back to people': Muldrow said the trend of police officers and departments becoming more standoffish and aloof has been nationwide.
"If you continue to be detached, you're going to get the same results," he said. "Now it’s time to get back to neighborhoods, get back to people and get back to high visibility. That's what community policing is all about."
Officers need to know it's OK for them to connect with people and that they aren't going to get jammed up by a boss for not writing someone a parking ticket or making a minor arrest, he said.
"I don't think it's their fault that they focus on enforcement," he said, because they must follow orders.
By placing a higher value on serving people, the relationship between officers and residents can undergo a fundamental shift for the better, Muldrow said.
"I spent 12 years trying to build that (in the school district) — to connect and build rapport with our school community," he said.
Inspiring students: Muldrow and school district police created and run SAFE Camp, a three-week summer day camp for York City kids that's free and focused on making campers better people, he has said. SAFE stands for safety, accountability, fitness and etiquette.
The kids go hiking, rock-climbing, swimming and to the beach, but there's also a community service component to the camp, such as helping the elderly and cleaning up neighborhoods, Muldrow has said.
The camp also has daily rigorous exercise and "demanding, character-driven, cadet-style drills and challenges," he has said, similar to police and fire academies.
"I felt it was my duty to … build bridges between law enforcement and our community," he said. "We can protest and do all kinds of things to call attention to the flaws we see in the law-enforcement system. We've got to promote change from the inside."
Muldrow also started the York Plate Patrol, which grew to encompass the suburbs and was renamed York United Plate Patrol. The police officers, teachers and others involved in the patrol deliver hot Thanksgiving meals to people who can't afford them, whether in York City or in the suburbs, he has said.
Training first responders: Muldrow and the school district police also created and run the Public Safety Academy, in its third year.
About 200 students now participate in the structured program, which prepares them for public-safety careers such as policing, firefighting and medical response on ambulances, with the expectation that they will become York City's next generation of first responders, he said.
Harrisburg Area Community College provides the curriculum for many of the academy's courses, and WellSpan Health subsidizes classes in the EMS and medical tracts, including phlebotomist training, according to Muldrow.
Students who graduate from the school district's academy and move on to HACC's police academy have enough credits transfer for them to be about halfway finished with HACC's academy, Muldrow said.
He said it's his attempt to increase diversity in the police department and to give local youth the chance to fill the city's public-safety jobs.
Muldrow said if he becomes commissioner, both the community and police officers will know they are valued and supported.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.