West Manchester Twp. hires Newberry's police chief

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
John Snyder's daughters Sophie, 8, Abby, 8, and Taylor, 17, right, hold the Bible as MDJ Keith Albright administers the Oath of Office to West Manchester Township's new Police Chief, Thursday, February 22, 2018. Officers from Snyder's former department, Newberry Township, along with West Manchester and other local law enforcement officers were on hand to witness Chief Snyder's swearing-in. Snyder will start his new position March 5.

John Snyder said he knows he has much to prove to the West Manchester Township community as the new police chief there.

"I have a lot of people depending on me and expecting good things," he said. "I don't want to let them down."

John Snyder will be sworn in as West Manchester Twp.'s new police chief on Feb. 22, 2018. Before being hired, he spent 29 years with Newberry Twp. Police - the last decade of that as chief.

Snyder, 50, officially takes over the department Monday, March 5, and will be sworn in at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at West Manchester Township's board of supervisors meeting, according to West Manchester Township manager Kelly Kelch.

"He has a unique mixture of experience, qualifications and education," Kelch said. "I told him he has big shoes to fill, but we know he can do it."

Snyder is no stranger to leading a police department.

For the past decade, he has been chief of Newberry Township Police, where he was first hired as a patrol officer 29 years ago.

He replaces retired West Manchester police chief Art Smith Jr., who spent a total of 41 years with the department and who became York County's chief county detective in January.

"I've known John for a long time," Smith said. "He'll do a great job. The guys will get behind him."

Building trust: Snyder said his No. 1 priority as chief is to become part of West Manchester's community by developing relationships with residents, business owners and community partners.

"I have to learn the township. I have to meet people. I'm going to work very hard to build trust," he said. "That's going to be one of my biggest challenges — to make the community believe in me and trust me."

Snyder said people will find he's hard-working and not a desk jockey.

"They're going to see me," he said. "I'm not going to be sitting in an office all day. That's not my personality."

Newberry Township Police Chief John Snyder represents the York County Chiefs of Police Association as they are recognized by the York County Commissioners for their service during Tropical Storm Lee, Wednesday October 11, 2011. 
York Dispatch File Photo

Snyder said he is accountable to the community and wants people to feel comfortable coming to him with problems, concerns and questions.

"I want to be a good fit with the community," he said. "That's important to me."

He said while he's excited about his new position, he's sad to leave the Newberry Township Police Department.

"That was a very difficult thing for me," he said.

Newberry Township manager Donald Keener said the township's supervisors haven't met since the chief resigned, so no decision has been made as to how to move forward in replacing him.

Keener said Friday, March 2, will be Snyder's last day.

"He worked here for a long time and he did a great job. ... He is well liked and well thought-of by the board and the community," Keener said. "We're sad to see him go, but happy for him."

Extensive search: Kelch told The York Dispatch that the search to replace Smith was extensive, with about 30 applicants who live as far away as California.

"We spent $15,000 to hire a search firm to make sure this was done correctly," he said. The consulting firm hired was SafeCity Solutions in Perkasie, Bucks County, according to Kelch.

The township's selection committee whittled down the list to three applicants, Kelch said. The committee consisted of Kelch, assistant township manager Lori Trimmer and township police Sgt. Matthew Emig, who has been acting chief since January.

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Township supervisors made the final decision, he said, but only after the candidates completed a rigorous testing process.

"We're definitely excited to have someone new ... with new ideas — someone who sees things differently than we do," Kelch said.

The department has 25 uniformed officers, plus support staff, according to Kelch, who said Snyder's annual salary will be $100,000.

Snyder said when he saw the caliber of his competition, he thought for sure he'd be out of the running.

"I'm lucky that they're giving me this opportunity — blessed, really," he said.

Newberry Twp. Police Chief John Snyder, seen here during a December 2017 standoff, will become West Manchester Township's new police chief on March 5, 2018.

Accreditation: Kelch and Snyder said another priority for the new chief will be to have the department accredited through the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

The accreditation process requires departments to adopt statewide standards, and Snyder said Newberry Township became accredited in 2005, the 30th department in the state to do so.

Snyder said accreditation doesn't relieve a chief of the duty to lead, but it can help provide a framework of best practices.

The new chief said his other priorities include helping to develop officers so they reach their highest potential.

"That is what I've been doing for the past 10 years as a police chief," Snyder said. "I mentor and train cops."

He said he also wants to expand the police department's community-outreach program, especially with West York Area School District.

"I plan to become very familiar with the staff and students, like I did at West Shore School District," he said.

'Strong leader': Thomas Burnheimer, director of pupil services for the West Shore School District, said he's known Snyder for a decade and described the chief as a strong leader who is knowledgeable and professional.

Two of the district's elementary schools are in Newberry Township, and Burnheimer said Snyder met with district officials regularly.

"He has made sure that students see police officers ... as people who are there to support them and are an ally and a resource for them," he said. "His officers are a regular presence in our building."

Snyder also did a good job trying to understand issues from the perspective of educators, according to Burnheimer.

"I'm sorry to see him go," he said.

Local roots: Snyder was born and raised in York County. His great-grandfather opened a car-spring business on Roosevelt Avenue in West Manchester Township in the 1930s that was eventually named Dressel Welding Supply, according to both Snyder and Kelch.

His grandfather then took over the business, which evolved into a welding business and then into a welding-supply business that has had locations in York, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Maryland.

In 2008, Snyder graduated from Elizabethtown College with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, then obtained his master's degree in administration of justice and leadership from Wilmington University in 2012.

"When I wasn't at work, I was in class. It was crazy there for a few years," Snyder said. "With kids, it was hard. I stayed up late at night to finish my degrees."

'Hard work' is key: He graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2007, is a 2010 graduate of the Northwestern School of Police Staff and Command and is a former adjunct professor of criminal justice at York College and Messiah College.

"I think the community is going to be happy with their police department in the future," he said. "But in order for that to happen we have to evolve with the community. And I'm going to do my best to make sure that happens."

Hard work, Snyder said, "is the only formula that works."

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