Helfrich slams Bracey's 'disingenuous' police-hiring presser

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

York City Mayor Kim Bracey took to the corner of South Pershing Avenue and West Maple Street last week to announce the city would be hiring “eight more, new police officers” to curb gun violence.

But her opponent in the November mayoral election thinks she tried to pull a fast one on residents and reporters.

City Councilman Michael Helfrich discusses plans for his new term during election night at the Democratic Party Headquarters on South Duke Street in York on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Helfrich recently won the Republican nomination in the 2017 York City mayoral race through write-in votes. Dawn J. Sagert - dsagert@yorkdispatch.com

After seeing reports from local media outlets claiming Bracey was beefing up the police force, York City Council President Michael Helfrich hit out at the mayor for playing up “a completely neutral position” as if “it was a great advancement in the safety of our community.”

More:York City to host gun buyback, replace 8 retiring officers

During the news conference, Bracey said her administration would soon begin the process of hiring “eight more, new officers” to the York City Police Department. Backed by Police Chief Wes Kahley and Fire Chief David Michaels, Bracey later announced a gun buyback event scheduled for Oct. 27. 

“To assist in our efforts in maintaining the safety of our community, of which I’m charged to do, we stand here today to announce that the City of York is going to be hiring eight more new police officers,” Bracey said just four minutes into the news conference.

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley speaks after Mayor Kim Bracey (center) announced plans to hire eight new officers. Pictured right is York City Councilwoman Judy Ritter-Dickson. Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. Jason Addy photo.

Fielding a question from The York Dispatch after the conference, Kahley confirmed the new hires would be replacing officers who will retire over the coming year. Once the new hires are on the force, the force will have 103 officers — the number the department is budgeted for — Kahley said.

In the days after the announcement, Bracey insisted she held the news conference to announce the gun buyback event, which will be hosted by the York City Fire Department.

“I stand by the fact I called a press conference about the gun buyback,” Bracey said Wednesday, Sept. 27, adding the announcement was “truly not calculated or politically driven.”

The mayor's office announced the press conference just before 6 p.m. the night before, simply stating there would be an "important announcement" from Bracey and Kahley the next morning.

Bracey and Helfrich will face off in the Nov. 7 municipal election. Helfrich is challenging Bracey on the ballot after winning the May Republican primary via write-in votes.

‘Where’s the news?’ Helfrich said he was skeptical about Bracey’s announcement for “more new” officers because he remembered approving funds for 103 officers during negotiations over the 2017 York City budget.

“My question is, ‘Where’s the news?’” Helfrich said. “I think it was a taxpayer-funded campaign event,” Helfrich continued, calling Bracey’s announcement a “disingenuous half-truth.”

Helfrich said he found Bracey’s announcement “a little bit deceiving” because the mayor didn’t mention in her announcement that the new hires would replace retiring officers.

After a rash of shootings in the city in recent weeks, Helfrich said, the mayor was right to talk about the violence, “but to play a semantics game with the public is inappropriate.”

“I would have rather had her just come out and say, ‘We are all saddened by the violence. We’re doing everything we can right now, and we need your help,’” Helfrich said. “That would have been an acceptable message, and you wouldn’t have heard a word from me.”

Bracey defended her announcement by pointing to her record of advocating gun-law reform and to the “excessive shootings” in the areas near Penn Park. 

“To me, that was worthy of having a press conference right there in that neighborhood,” Bracey said.

Bracey said she doesn’t “have time to play games” and declined the opportunity to respond to Helfrich’s comments to The York Dispatch. 

“I don’t even read his rhetoric,” she said. 

Administrative delay? During her announcement, Bracey called on the York City Council to approve the eight new hires immediately. It takes 10 to 11 months for a new hire to complete the police academy and internal training at the department, Kahley said.

Despite the push for urgency, the York City Council canceled its committee meeting Wednesday, Sept. 27, because Bracey’s administration did not send any proposed legislation for the council to look at, Helfrich said.

“There was a call to action for city council to take this up, but there has been no proposal submitted to city council,” Helfrich said. “As president of city council, I’m confused about being called to take swift action when nothing has been proposed by the administration.”

Bracey said the proposal was not ready by the York City Council’s deadline because additional information was needed from a Civil Services Board meeting this week. 

Bracey said she expects her proposal to hire eight officers to be on the agenda for York City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3.