York City officer's resignation letter takes aim at mayor, police commissioner

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The now-public resignation letter of a York City police officer says officers aren't being supported by the mayor or police administration, that morale among city officers is at an all-time low — and that he has heard complaints from citizens that Mayor Michael Helfrich has been seen using crack cocaine.

"The political influence that is taking hold of this profession in the York City Police Department is becoming so detrimental that officers do not believe they can be cops anymore," Justin Main wrote in his signed letter, dated Tuesday.

York City Police Officer Justin Main in York City, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"It is because of this complete lack of support and respect, from city government and police administration, toward officers that put their entire heart and soul into a recently thankless profession, that I hereby resign," he wrote.

Main's letter makes specific accusations against Helfrich and Police Commissioner Osborne "Moe" Robinson, including that there have been "multiple complaints and statements from citizens of this city" that Helfrich has been seen smoking crack in local bars and being "overly intoxicated in public."

"It's laughable and not true," the mayor said. "Nobody should ever be treated any differently by the York City Police Department no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, economic status or political position — including me. Or because they're a fellow police officer.

On Friday, Helfrich provided The York Dispatch with results from two drug tests, one he took in January 2018 after taking office and the second taken Friday, "to absolutely refute any question of these false accusations ... or any other accusations regarding marijuana or anything else."

Copies of those test results state the mayor was negative for marijuana, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines and PCP.

'Wild allegations': "It was surprising that someone who I considered an asset to the police department would make such wild allegations against our police commissioner and myself," Helfrich said Thursday. He also responded to the letter in a Facebook group where it's posted.

Main, 28, who was hired nearly five years ago, said he submitted his letter to the department Tuesday and shared it with fellow officers, who disseminated it on Facebook and to the media.

"I devoted every ounce of energy to this department," he told The York Dispatch.

Main's letter says officers were denied contractually required overtime for working during Black Lives Matter protests, but Helfrich said the issue is being worked out.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich

"There was confusion from some supervisors and the administration, and it is all being processed right now," the mayor said, noting the matter is still being discussed.

Officials with the White Rose Fraternal of Police Lodge, which represents city officers, said the matter was grieved right after the overtime was denied.

Union officials went to the the division commander, then to the commissioner and are now waiting to see whether the city's human relations office pays out the overtime or denies it, according to the FOP.

Write-ups: Main's letter also states that officers are being written up for little or no reason.

"Most recently with the evolution of discipline in the department it has become apparent that officers will now receive write-ups for simply doing their job, and even more severely, be fired for unsubstantiated claims of actions off duty," the letter states.

"If the commissioner senses sarcasm in an email, the officer is written up, even if he misconstrued it," the former officer told The York Dispatch.

Main offered another example, in which a number of patrol officers were put on a detail that required them to stay in a certain neighborhood that had seen a rise in crime. Officers refer to such a specific area as "the box."

When the bulk of officers in a patrol shift are assigned to an area, it means there are only one or two patrol officers responding to all other city calls, he said.

There were no calls in "the box" for a portion of the detail, so when 911 started getting complaints about drug use and quality-of-life issues at Foundry Park, on the bank of the Codorus Creek next to the Philadelphia Street bridge, an officer or two responded there, according to Main.

Later in the evening, there was a shooting in "the box," he said, and the officers who left it to respond to Foundry Park are facing discipline, despite the fact that Foundry Park also had a shooting just a couple nights later.

Main said citizens have complained about response delays and want to know why it took so long for an officer to respond to their problems.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich is joined by York City Police Chief Osborne "Moe" Robinson III, left, during a rally at Continental Square Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Protesters gathered in the city for a second straight day calling for justice after George Floyd died after an altercation with Minneapolis police officers. Over 1,000 people attended the rally. Bill Kalina photo

"The commissioner said it doesn't matter. Our priority now are Part 1 (major violent crimes)," the former officer said. "Everything else gets put on the back burner. The problem is, 90% of the calls we get aren't Part 1 crimes."

No communication? Main also said few officers have had conversations with the commissioner.

"There's zero communication," he said. "I worked on street crimes assigned under the detective bureau. ... He's never taken the opportunity to talk to me. I know at least 50% of patrol has never heard a single word from him. There are sergeants who haven't spoken with him."

Robinson was out of town Thursday on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Helfrich defended the police commissioner.

York City Police Commissioner Osborne Robinson at City Hall, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"What I need in my administration and in our community are people that can help bridge the gap that seems to be widening between our police departments and our citizens," the mayor said. "Through his actions ... (Robinson) has proven to me that he is the bridge that York needs."

Main's letter takes issue with a spoken-word presentation that Robinson gave at a Black Lives Matter protest in York City. He said city cops are not allowed to support causes or give personal opinions while wearing their uniforms.

Helfrich called Robinson's spoken-word presentation powerful and inspiring and said it reassured people "that at the head of the police department is someone that doesn't have to learn about discrimination and how hard it is to be a person of color ... living in the United States."

More oversight: Helfrich said he knows police morale across the country is at an all-time low.

"When you add in the fact that we are increasing the oversight of our police officers, there will be some who do not want oversight," he said, and noted that the city's systems for collecting internal and outside complaints has been improved.

"Certainly nobody is getting written up for no reason. Complaints are being documented and investigated," Helfrich said. "We've improved some processes so that, in some cases, there is additional review of complaints going to our internal affairs inspector that previously were handled internally by supervisors.

"We believe this is an important improvement and a response to legitimate concerns that people have regarding police overseeing police," the mayor said. "To my knowledge ... most reform does not happen within any entity without calls for it coming from the outside, and this administration has heard the concerns and the calls for more training and more oversight, and we are (responding)."

York City Police Department, 50 W. King Street, York. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Main said he has no issue with improved or increased oversight and also felt the system needed to be updated. Oversight isn't the issue, he said.

The former city officer also said Osborne has chosen not to approve most of the trainings that officers were planning to take, including a required school-resource officer training and trainings for the Group Violence Initiative that York uses as one tool to try to reduce street shootings.

Main said it's insulting that there's an assumption he and other officers weren't already working to "bridge the gap" with citizens and build trust. He said he's worked with community leaders, acted as a liaison between them and the police department, attended community meetings and participated in community events.

"I and other officers were doing this long before Moe Robinson got here," he said, but Robinson does not acknowledge those efforts. 

Helfrich said he is not anti-police and that he thanks York City officers when he sees them.

"We desperately need great police officers that respect our citizens and respect the rule of law," he said. "This city desperately needs the police, and we desperately need the citizens to trust the police so that we can all work in unison to stop the tiny percentage of violent individuals who are destroying families and our city."

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

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