York City revisits decades-old cap on police staffing

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

The hiring cap that limits the number of York City Police officers to 100 could be lifted Tuesday night.

The little-known hiring cap, which dates to the 1960s, limits the department to 100 full-time officers unless a new position can be funded via external grants. Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow said the policy limits the department's responses to violent crime.

"We've been hamstrung by that limit that was set when the world had a two-parent household and everybody drank milk with their meals and 14-year-olds didn't carry guns," he said in a previous interview.

Last fall, the York City Council considered amending the city code to lift the cap amid a wave of violent crime. Those discussions stalled, however, over objections raised by the Fraternal Order of the Police White Rose Lodge 15, the local police union, concerning a proposal to appoint a detective commander. That issue has since been resolved, setting the stage for the city to revisit the issue.

York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow, in center, talking to the newest officers at the York City Police Department swearing in ceremony, alongside Mayor Michael Helfrich, on left, in York on Friday, Jan.6, 2023.

The proposal to lift the hiring cap came as York City reported a record 22 homicides in 2022, with a per-capita homicide rate of 49 per 100,000 residents. That was higher than the rate reported by Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia.

"We're so inundated with [serious] crimes that our detectives are working solely on shootings and homicides and everything else has fallen on the back burner," Muldrow told the City Council last September, "I need more, and I'm going to keep screaming until somebody hears me that I need more."

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The department currently employs 111 police officers for a city of nearly 45,000 residents. That includes 11 officers paid for via grants, including federal COVID-19 assistance. In order to keep the new hires on staff when the grants are up, Muldrow said the department would need to continue to use outside funding or get the police cap removed.

For comparison, Lancaster City 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 2.5 officers per 1,000 — a number that would increase to 2.7 if Muldrow's initial staffing proposal of roughly 123 officers becomes a reality.

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The City Council was set to vote on removing the cap in October 2022, but the vote was tabled after Benjamin Praster, the head of the police labor union, raised concerns about the commissioner's designation of a detective commander who would oversee the department's investigative unit.

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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Muldrow said the change was a minor one — someone already fills that role on a de facto basis — but Praster said it would circumvent existing promotion procedures.

Police Capt. Daniel Lentz said the matter was ultimately resolved with the union via arbitration. According to Lentz, the department ultimately prevailed, creating the position.

The next City Council legislative meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 101 S. George St. It will be livestreamed on White Rose Community TV at www.wrct.tv/ and on Youtube at www.youtube.com/@WhiteRoseCommunityTV.

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