CONTRIBUTORS

OP-ED: Mayor: Only a court will put Officer Swartz back on York City streets

Mayor Michael Helfrich
York City
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich reads aloud the anonymous names of child abuse victims during a ceremony presented by the Children's Advocacy Center on Thursday, April 1. Tina Locurto photo.

I hope this letter may serve to educate the people of York on the processes that are required to remove a police officer from the employment of the City of York. Let us start at the beginning.

The Fraternal Order of Police is a union that represents the interests of police officers.  That union negotiates a contract with the employer every few years. If there is a dispute with the contract negotiations, or during the period of the contract, the decision on how to resolve that dispute goes to outside parties called arbitrators. 

These rules, which are established by state law, must be followed by the City of York.  State law and the FOP contract prohibit the termination of a police officer without due process. In addition, after the City of York prepares the case for termination, that case must go to a trial board made up of three York City Police officers. Only if two of the three officers agree with the accusations do we move to the next step. 

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York City Police Chief Troy Bankert, left, and Officer Clayton Swartz as officials investigate a fatal shooting reported near the corner of South West and West Princess Streets in York City, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said the shooting resulted in the death of an adult male and an injured juvenile who was transported to York Hospital. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Then, that police officer, upon notification of termination, may appeal to the City Council or arbitrator for a second full hearing of the case. If two police officers do not support the charges submitted by the mayor, police commissioner, and internal affairs inspector, then the police officer must remain employed by the City of York.

That’s right!  Two police officers overrule the city government and the people’s elected officials. You may be thinking, “What kind of business allows two employees to override the president of the company, the head of security, and their investigator?” I believe the answer is no business allows this.

In the case of Clayton Swartz, the trial board did not follow the rules established for trial boards. They did not supply any written findings for the decision that two of the three officers made to find the charges unsubstantiated. That is why I made the decision to appeal to the courts under the Local Agency Law. This law allows otherwise final decisions of local boards, authorities, etc. to be appealed to the courts for not following procedures or issuing a decision that harms the public. I believe this trial board has done both. That is why I approved a second appeal that is now before the court.

In a recent news report, the FOP’s attorney stated that I was trying to negotiate the return of Clayton Swartz to duty. This is a half-truth. Knowing that the court may rule against the city, I was trying to negotiate the conditions upon which he would return if we were to reinstate Mr. Swartz for a short period of time. I was negotiating to permanently eliminate these biased and unjust trial boards and to have Mr. Swartz work in an area where he would not be working with the public. 

My goals and the points at which I stopped negotiating, are known to the FOP president. I made him well aware that I would never make the decision to allow Clayton Swartz to interact with the people of York City as a representative of our York City Police Department. That is why the negotiations ended. Only a court will put Clayton Swartz back on the streets of York, not this mayor. These are all facts. Some might say, truth.

Now to address some politically motivated fiction by an announced political candidate and his advisors. It was recently stated that Commissioner Moe Robinson left York City because I did not support the decision to terminate Clayton Swartz. Commissioner Robinson, who signed the order to terminate Clayton Swartz, left the York City Police Department for reasons completely unrelated to this case. He and I were in agreement on the termination. If I didn’t support the termination, why would I have ordered not one, but now two appeals? 

York City does not need more misinformation, particularly from those campaigning to be future leaders of our city. The people of York City have proven time and time again that they will not fall for this type of campaigning.

In this letter, I have written the truth. I am well aware that some do not like the stance that I have taken. But, I must stick with the facts as they were presented to me. Our internal investigation has concluded that Clayton Swartz was not forthcoming and truthful about all of the events surrounding the alleged reenactment of the George Floyd murder. None of us will ever know exactly what happened that night. There is no video or sound recording. But, the point at which Clayton Swartz forfeited his employment was when he was found by our investigation to not be forthcoming and truthful. That in itself is cause for termination. I stand by that until a court forces me to do otherwise.

— Michael Helfrich is mayor of York City.