UPDATE: York City police changes course on racial data

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Police arrested a man who crashed his car through a tree, fire hydrant, a car and finally another tree at the corner of Linden Ave. and N. West Street, Sunday, June 2, 2019. According to police on the scene, the subject crashed during an drug overdose and needed revived with Narcan. The subject then refused treatment from EMS before being taken into custody by police.
John A. Pavoncello photo

York City officials said late Thursday afternoon that the city's police department will consider tracking racial data of those pulled over for traffic stops to ward off bias. The announcement came an hour after officials refused to comment as to whether the department tracks the data in the first place. 

Prompted by an investigative piece by the nonprofit news outlet Spotlight PA last week, Pennsylvania State Police announced it would begin tracking racial data after quietly stopping the practice in 2012. 

York City officials on Thursday declined to comment on whether they track racial data — and if not, why not — after multiple phone call inquiries over a week. They instead offered a prepared statement teasing an announcement that would come in the coming days.

But just an hour later, the department in a separate statement confirmed it does not track racial data but will consider doing so after taking a look at the state police's policy.

"As an accredited police department that follows the best practices and standards to prevent biased-based policing, the York City Police Department will be evaluating the process that the state police will begin to implement and consider mirroring their procedure," the release states.

On Thursday, The York Dispatch filed a Right-to-Know Law request seeking a copy of the department's policy regarding tracking racial data.

Other departments: Officials at multiple regional police departments throughout York County have said tracking racial data would make it much easier to keep tabs on implicit bias, a sentiment echoed by activists — especially in times of tense relations between police and minorities.

Northern Regional Police Department is the only department that responded to calls that right now tracks the race of those pulled over by its officers. It has done so for at least 15 years, said Deputy Chief Dave Lash.

"It's just a second way for us to make sure we're providing unbiased, quality service to our constituents," Lash said. "It's become a habit for us. It's a known thing that our officers need to record."

Officials at the regional departments that don't have these policies said that tracking racial data is useful and productive. 

"I would have no problems (tracking racial data), but we just need to find out the method and the process that makes it feasible for us to do it," said York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon.

Finances: The departments, which now use electronic citations, are limited by their software and would likely have to make potentially costly upgrades, Damon said. Regional police departments and other local departments also don't have as many resources as the state police.

Some regional departments in York County are already in financial straits as it is. 

Southwestern Regional Police has suffered from municipalities opting to withdraw from its services. The department has weighed cost-cutting measures and possibly merging with another department.

"My police department is going through a lot of political chaos at this point," said Southwestern Regional Sgt. Jamie Stalcup. "It's not that we have an eye on the longer term. We're probably only going to be here until the end of the year."

Northeastern Regional and Southern Regional Police departments did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.