Decades-old York City police hiring cap lifted after months of debate

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

York City officials lifted a decades-old police staffing cap after months of debate and strong advocacy from Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow.

Previous language in the city code limited the police department to 100 full-time officers, barring external funding sources. Muldrow argued that the cap was an impediment to addressing rising gun violence in the city. Last year, York City's homicide rate topped that of Philadelphia and New York City.

"We're thankful council passed this and we're excited to see what the future holds," police Capt. Daniel Lentz said.

Newly sworn in Capt. Daniel Lentz speaks during York City Police DepartmentÕs promotion ceremony at City Hall, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

The proposal also creates a detective commander position that would oversee the investigation bureau and be assigned by the police commissioner. York City's police labor union opposed the change, delaying the process and sending the matter to arbitration.

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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. 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.

Now that the hiring cap has been lifted, the grant-funded officers can be kept on permanently through city-appropriated funds.

"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."

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.

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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This isn't the first time City Council considered lifting the cap. City officials discussed the issue several times in recent decades, most recently last fall.

The Fraternal Order of the Police White Rose Lodge 15, the local police union, primarily objected to the creation of a detective commander position. Union President Benjamin Praster said such a position should be filled by promotion, not an 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."

YCPD and the FOP took the issue to arbitration, which found the appointment of the detective commander position to be within the commissioner’s power. Despite the latest movement, the FOP filed an appeal to the arbitration and is pursuing ongoing legal actions, Praster said.

The next City Council legislative meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at City Hall, 101 S. George St. It will be livestreamed on White Rose Community TV at www.wrct.tv/ and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/@WhiteRoseCommunityTV/playlists.

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