OPED: Bobby Simpson: For progress in York, police and business must lead way

Bobby Simpson
Crispus Attucks Association
Crispus Attucks CEO Bobby Simpson, right, talks about the vast improvements that have been made to the neighborhood, including its new park, during the South Duke Street Block Party hosted by Crispus Attucks and South Duke Street Neighborhood Association is shown in York, Pa. on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015.   Dawn J. Sagert -

I’d like to give my opinion on a number of topics that were recently covered in our local newspaper. One made national news and, once again, put York in the national spotlight. 

I’m not speaking as a newcomer to York or as a stranger to these topics. I’m born and raised in York, so I think I understand York pretty well to speak on these issues.

My first topic is the issue surrounding the York City Economic Development position.  Regardless of the awkward and underhanded way our mayor handled this position, I personally know Blanda Nace and have worked with him in the past. I think given the opportunity, he will do a good job for York. I have been fortunate to have worked with three of the finest Economic Development directors in the past — Al Hydeman, Eric Menzer and Jack Kay — they made a huge difference in York. Again, I think given the opportunity, Blanda Nace will do a good job for York. 

Economic development deals with bricks and mortars and helps to develop businesses, which is important, but the issue I’m most concerned with is the York City Police Department postings on Facebook, which, again, put York in the national spotlight. 

I was very disappointed to see that 75 people showed up at a town hall meeting with the mayor to talk about various issues that confront our city, and not one time was the Facebook article mentioned and how some of the police feel about minorities in our community. 

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Our police department deals with life and death issues in their relationships, and how they feel may depend on the outcome of a situation, particularly when split-second decisions have to be made. 

York has made some progress over the past 50 years since the York riots and our setbacks will not be because of who is the York City Economic Development director.  Our setbacks will be because of the relationships between the community and our police department. This, alone, will destroy any progress that York has made, and I do not think there will be a recovery this time.

The 50th anniversary of the York riots is fast approaching, and, yes, some progress has been made. Back then, I would have given our community an overall F, but today, based on the progress we’ve made, I would give our community a C+. I did have our police department also at a C+, but since the Facebook article I downgraded them to a C-.

If our city is going to continue to make progress, our business leaders and our police department have to lead the way. Whenever there is an issue with the police department, many will say we need more minority or black police officers. I’m not so sure about that. 

I cannot speak for other cities, but York’s history tells us that’s not true. There were cases in the past where a black police officer would beat the hell out of you quicker than a white police officer just to prove a point that he was fair. My answer is, “Don’t give me a black police officer, don’t give me a white police officer, just give me a good one!” 

The mayor’s response to the Facebook article was weak, and more should have been done. Two police departments that are trying to make a difference under some very difficult circumstances are Spring Garden and Springettsbury Township. Under the leadership of Chief George Swartz Jr. and Chief Daniel Stump, respectively, they are working with their communities to try and improve relationships and, although they are by no means perfect, they are trying hard to make a difference.

Let me be very clear with this statement. I have no problem with private or members-only clubs; however, I do have a problem if our judges, district attorney personnel, and our police officers are members of these clubs. Private or members-only clubs will have no effect on my life or my well-being, but judges, DAs and police officers do. 

Many will say cultural diversity and sensitivity training is the answer. Not true. If we are talking about one day or one session of training, we are fooling ourselves to think that training will change a lifestyle or a lifetime of behavior and thinking.

You may not like what Bill Swartz is saying, but he’s on the right track. If the tough issues that are confronting our community are to be resolved, then we have to face the facts. Bill Swartz is doing a very good job of presenting these issues to all of us —business and community leaders, and city and county government — and we need to pay attention to what he is saying if York is going to continue to move forward. 

We must come together as a community. I’m very proud of the participation of York College in the city, and I’m very proud of all that WellSpan has done to improve the Boundary Avenue areas and the South George Street corridor and their involvement in the Loretta Claiborne Building and the Greenway Tech Center. 

And a big “thank you” to Royal Square for doing such a tremendous job in helping to revitalize York City. These are the kind of partnerships that we have to continue to build if York is going to continue to be successful. Let’s work together and post all these positive actions and events on Facebook so that the community, and the nation, can see the good things that are happening in York.

— Bobby Simpson is CEO of the Crispus Attucks Association.