Red Lion residents unite: 'I feel burdened to clean the town up'

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Members of the Red Lion community are taking the issue of crime into their own hands.

The push began on Facebook in December when one resident, Mike Adams, asked his neighbors to unite amid a string of incidents, including break-ins, thefts and even the lockdown of Red Lion Area schools. Most recently, Tom's Music Trade — a popular independent record shop — reported the theft of a Star Wars helmet from one of its outside art installations.

"I feel burdened to clean the town up," Adams said at a Feb. 7 meeting he helped organize.

Traffic along South Main Street in Red Lion Borough, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As Adams noted, Red Lion doesn’t have its own police force. In 2014, the borough council opted to end its contract for coverage from York Area Regional Police, for an annual budget savings of nearly $600,000. Since then, the borough has received coverage from state police. But for community members concerned about crime, that wasn’t enough. The group wanted to improve their community and solve problems. 

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The situation escalated to the point that Adams decided to set up meetings one Tuesday a month at Grace Lutheran Church, 220 N. Charles St., Red Lion. Adams went in with a plan: to treat Red Lion like a football team, with an offensive and defensive side.

“Offensively is how we can serve the community, defensively is how we can protect our homes and our cars,” he said, explaining the group's tactics. 

Red Lion residents meet each month to discuss how to curb a rash of recent crimes in the borough, which does not have its own police department.

Adams said he leans toward the offensive side because residents can get to know their neighbors and watch each other's backs. That is their starting line. 

The neighbors also created neighborhood block captains, including Shauntia Phillips, who is helping lead the group with Adams. She has many ideas to help the community, which she hopes to launch soon. 

“I’ve only been here since July, but I am sick and tired to hear people say ‘Red Lion is going down,”’ said Phillips, who captains the West Broadway block.

She asked how the town could improve if people only complained rather than acted. Phillips is doing something: after reporting an abandoned car, she learned the vehicle was being used by drug users. The car has since been removed.

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State Trooper James T. Grothey said he plans to attend the meetings and speak to the residents about the defensive side of the equation: how not to be a victim.

The group plans to meet monthly to discuss strategies for tackling crime and making the borough better. Phillips said they'll look into ways to help their neighbors, including efforts to help house the unsheltered and provide assistance to low-income neighbors.

A beer can rests in brush along the sidewalk on North Main Street in Red Lion Borough, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The first offensive move Adams is pushing is organizing street cleaning. He is asking his Boundary Avenue neighbors to join him in a 15-to-20-minute walk every weekend to clean up litter on the street and alleyways.

Another offensive piece is helping local organizations, such as 18 South Youth Center. Chris Kenna, the center’s executive director, spoke about what the nonprofit does and why. 

“The need out there is great,” he said, explaining that some children are going hungry because they don’t have food at home. 

The center offers local children food stability, a safe place to go, suicide prevention programs, college-ready programs and help steering them away from “doing dumb stuff in the community,” Kenna said. He called the center a safe place to talk. 

“The kids are struggling in the community” and are left to fend for themselves, he said. “There’s no shortage of what you can do.”

The group members asked how they could help.  Kenna said that if they show up, he can give them many ways to help, such as working at the snack bar, serving a meal or teaching the children a skill. 

The center is open for a few hours daily after school. Kenna said the hours will change in the summer. 

Tom’s Music Trade in North Main Street in Red Lion Borough, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

 A new program, Human Trafficking 101, is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the center. 

“If you’re anything like me, when I heard of human trafficking before, I used to think of Liam Neeson in 'Taken,'” Kenna said — the idea that someone would kidnap a child and take them overseas. 

But that’s not the case. 

“It’s much bigger and it’s wider than that,” he said. The center is teaming up with Greenlight Operation, a Camp Hill-based nonprofit, to teach the class. 

He said the center is trying to fill the needs the children are reporting back to them, with education about trafficking being one of them. 

A box rests on the sidewalk of South Main Street in Red Lion Borough, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

On the other side of the team, there will be a class on March 18 about tactics, not including firearms or self-defense, discussing how to protect people and their property. The time and place will be announced at the next Red Lion crime meeting. Block captains will share on various Facebook groups and Nextdoor, which is a neighborhood network app. 

Grothey, the trooper, shared some defensive tactics. Those included installing cameras and ensuring that cars and garages are locked. But they also extend to reaching out to young people, giving them jobs and teaching them skills.

Scams are also a significant driver of police calls, he said.

“Millennials are [the victims of] 44% of scams,” he said, explaining that a common scam starts with receiving a text message about a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription. Clicking on a questionable link could lead to a device being hacked or a phishing attempt, in which seemingly legitimate websites are used to extract the person's credit card number and other information.

A man rests on a bench along South Main Street in Red Lion Borough, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Don’t be afraid to call us,” Grothey said. "It's our job. You're not bothering us."

The phone operators will transfer the call to the correct law enforcement organization or give the caller information about who they should be calling. 

The meeting ended with Phillips explaining that she is brewing up a bunch of ideas about how to help the Red Lion area. She doesn’t want people to keep saying her town “is going down” — she wants it to rise.

The group meets once a month at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday in Grace Lutheran Church at 220 N. Charles St. in Red Lion. The next date will be announced through Red Lion Facebook groups such as the private “Red Lion Community Page" at https://www.facebook.com/groups/806923903325918/.

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.