Springetts police release DOJ report on deficiencies

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

While many law-enforcement agencies across the country struggle to maintain opens lines of communication with their communities, the Springettsbury Township Police released a U.S. Department of Justice report detailing the department's deficiencies to a crowded room on Monday night.

In February, Springettsbury Township Police Chief Dan Stump requested assistance from the federal agency’s Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center to identify proactive measures to build community trust and restore community-police relationships.

“We’ve had issues at times, and we found gaps, and we had to take corrective measures,” Stump said of his decision to ask for outside help. “Why not be proactive and try to find them beforehand?”

During the review, federal experts from the Diagnostic Center focused on the department’s relationship with the community, its procedural justice policies and the development of a body-camera program.

The Diagnostic Center combed through years of police reports, calls for services and citizen complaints, conducted dozens of stakeholder interviews and reviewed data on arrests and use-of-force incidents in order to compile the 47-page report, which was released Monday.

Federal experts from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center explain the findings of their review of the Springettsbury Township Police Department.

The report represents the first part of a two-year partnership between the Department of Justice and the Springettsbury Township Police to identify and eliminate “organizational blind spots.”

The Department of Justice will provide training and technical assistance to the Springettsbury Township Police to help implement the experts’ recommendations over the next year.

Stump called the partnership a “crawl, walk, run” process and emphasized the changes will take time to implement.

“I just want to have a strong relationship with the community and our department, which is all of our officers, not just the chief,” Stump said. “It’s more important that the relationship is good with the patrol officers that are out there working in the street and with the community.”

Findings: Federal experts found limited formalized processes for the department’s handling of citizen complaints, use-of-force incidents and internal investigations, leaving officers unsure of administrative and disciplinary processes.

Springettsbury Township Police investigated 147 use-of-force cases between 2013 and 2015, according to the report.

Officers used verbal force in 91.8 percent and applied force with their hands in 60.5 percent of incidents, while officers displayed a lethal weapon in 31.3 percent of cases, twice as often as they displayed a Taser over the three-year period, according to the report.

Mental-health cases account for the largest portion of use-of-force incidents at 18 percent, followed by retail theft and assault cases. Though traffic stops are the catalyst for the largest number of police contacts, only one use-of-force incident related to a traffic stop was reported over the three-year period.

In stakeholder interviews, federal experts found that the community and police are still working through past use-of-force incidents.

In 2011 and 2012, Springettsbury Township Police were involved in three lawsuits alleging excessive use of force, one of which resulted in a citizen fatality.

A lawsuit was filed against the department on behalf of the family of Todd William Shultz, 40, of North York, after his death on Dec. 29, 2012, outside the Kmart on Haines Road.

Shultz died after being shot 17 times by two Springettsbury officers. He was wielding a table knife and scissors at the time, despite repeated orders and pleas from police to drop the weapons. The lawsuit by Shultz's family is still pending.

Springettsbury Township settled two lawsuits stemming from excessive use of force during an arrest for $250,000 each.

Stump said the department has made many changes in its review process for use-of-force incidents since 2012 and hopes that meetings like the one on Monday night can help repair the relationship between police and the community.

“I think over time we’ll establish that trust,” Stump said. “Hopefully things like this, where we’re being open and transparent with everything and showing everything to everyone, is a good step toward that.”

Springettsbury Township Police received 31 citizen complaints between 2013 and 2015. Of 21 citizen-initiated complaints, five were at least partially sustained, according to the report. All 10 department-initiated complaints — which include the accidental discharge of a service weapon and traffic crashes with a department vehicle — were sustained after review.

Recommendations: Based on their findings, federal experts made several recommendations to the Springettsbury Township Police, including improved external communications and consistency with departmental policies.

Though processes and procedures are in place, the department should formalize its policies for handling citizen complaints, use-of-force incidents and internal investigations and train its officers about administrative processes and expectations in those situations, the report said.

One of the key challenges to changing the department’s reputation and standing in the community is that Springettsbury officers view community policing as community outreach, according to the report.

With this mindset, the department misses opportunities to collaborate with area stakeholders and build stronger relationships and deeper roots within the community, the report said.

The department should actively encourage its officers to apply community-policing principles by implementing employee-performance metrics for community engagement, according to the report.

Officers should undergo additional cultural awareness and police legitimacy training to overcome legacy issues from past use-of-force incidents, and the department should institute a tracking mechanism and early-intervention program for officers with potentially problematic behavior, according to the report.

“I believe everything they found has value,” Stump said. “I take full responsibility for those deficiencies that were found and will take full responsibility in correcting them as well.”

Community support: Mark Swomley, chairman of the Springettsbury Township board of supervisors, praised Stump’s “courage” to open his department up to scrutiny for the benefit of the people it serves.

“I want to let everybody know how proud we are of Chief Stump — and his entire department — and the work that he’s done,” Swomley said at the end of the presentation.

Swomley urged residents to be open and transparent with the department and to come to meetings and speak their minds in order to be part of the solution.

The Rev. Bill Kerney also offered his support to Stump and the Springettsbury Township Police and commended the police chief for leading a “down-to-earth, transparent and open dialogue” between the Black Ministers Association and various police departments.

Open dialogue breeds trust and transparency, which leads to open discussion on how to better the community, Kerney said.

“We have to come together as a community to dispel any type of rumors that the police are against us,” Kerney said. “We’re working to bridge that gap so we can spread, communicate to the community that there is hope and that we must come together and avoid the things that are happening on the national level.”

Stump said he was “humbled” and “thankful” that the community has shown so much interest and support for what his department is doing.

“I promise you we’re going to do our best,” Stump said. “This community is going to be proud of their police department and find us an important part of the community.”