York City Council tables discussion of police plan

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

York City officials once again tabled proposed changes to police department staffing after a night of contentious debate between attorneys for the city and its police union.

Specifically, the Fraternal Order of the Police White Rose Lodge 15 continued to raise objections over a proposal to appoint a detective commander. Union president Benjamin Praster said such a position should be filled by promotion, not appointment.

"The commissioner can take somebody, create a new position . . . and put him up above captains," Praster said, "and then pay him a captain salary and give him line authority over everybody in the police department."

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Earlier in the day, the attorneys for the union and the city — Ed Paskey and Joe Rudolph, respectively — met for arbitration on the issue, which was the subject of a labor grievance filed against the city.

"It seems a little premature for you to be deciding to change this language when I'm telling you and representing to you that there's a pending arbitration decision that may impact this," Paskey told the City Council members during their meeting Wednesday night.

York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow looks on as Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) speaks to media regarding the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act at York City Hall in York City, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

In response, Rudolph told the council that he believes union leadership is overstepping their authority in questioning a proposed city ordinance. The collective bargaining agreement, he said, is a contract between the union and the city with little to no overlap on the work of the council.

"I think that part of this is sort of renegade behavior," he said.

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The two attorneys spoke at length about various definitions cited in city code and the ways state law does — and does not — apply to the situation.

That debate did not center on the larger goal of the proposal, made by Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow in the wake of a wave of violent gun crime: To repeal a decades-old limit on the number of police officers in the city.

The possibility of separating the police staffing proposal from the detective commander one was not discussed at Wednesday's council committee meeting. Praster said the union does support increasing the number of officers.

Currently, the department has 101 full time officers who cover a city of nearly 45,000 residents. Under current city code, police staffing is capped at 100 except when the positions are paid for by external grants.

Cities comparable in size to York, such as Lancaster and Harrisburg, employ well over 100 officers. Lancaster has 147 officers for its 57,000 residents while Harrisburg has 128 officers for its 50,000 residents, according to the respective departments.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the national average for departments is to have 3.4 officers per 1,000 residents. York City currently has 2.4 officers per 1,000 — a number that would increase to 2.7 if Muldrow's proposed hiring of 22 new officers becomes a reality.

Ultimately, after hearing from both attorneys, Council President Sandie Walker motioned late Wednesday to table the proposal in its entirety — and the council agreed.

Walker said the proposal won't be discussed again until the council receives an update from the city or its police union.

Other city officials did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, but Praster said the union remains in negotiations with the city on the police labor contract. It has made several proposals to address the issue of promotions but, according to Praster, the city has not yet responded.

Praster said he hopes that, since the amendments were tabled, the city will respond soon in order to "hammer something out."

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.