Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Police Chief Shares His Perspective on Lancaster

by Matt Henderson

Interviewed by NewsLanc on Monday, Lancaster's Chief of Police, Keith Sadler, said the biggest challenge for the city police is "staying progressive enough that you mix modern police tactics and technology with established investigative and patrol tools."

"Unfortunately, sometimes, courts and citizens - because of like, television - actually think that every case is solved on DNA extractions and that's just not the case. There has to be a balance... if you have nobody on your department that's a good investigator and you have all the forensic capabilities, you won't be able to tie the science in with the investigation."

"I think this is a pretty solid police department," he said. "And the challenge for us is to stay solid. And to get the respect and admiration from the community."

"That's a challenge in any department," he continued. "You're dealing with an urban environment. If your department loses credibility, it's hard to investigate crimes and it's hard to involve the community in preventative foot patrol if they don't buy into you. So you need to be validated by the city you're policing before you can be successful."

Before coming to Lancaster, Sadler served with the Philadelphia Police Department for 27 years. He said that Lancaster and Philadelphia are "very similar."

"Lancaster, in a positive way, reminds me of Philadelphia," Sadler says. "lot and it's unfair because Philadelphia has come a long way in the last 10, 15 years and there's a lot of good neighborhoods there and Lancaster is the same way."

"Both places have crime issues," he continued, "but they're being dealt with."

"It seems that the Court system here is part of the whole picture... One of the biggest problems in Philadelphia is, somebody will be arrested for a shooting. While they're out on bail they're committing more crimes. And if they finally get convicted, they're not in that long... So here that's probably the most noticeable thing. Violent offenders seem to get more fitting sentences for their crimes. I mean, if you shoot somebody, you should go away for a long time. That's my opinion. Nonviolent offenses - different story. Violent offenses should be dealt with," Sadler said.

He added that with a convention center being built, a new academy of music, "I guess you could say [Lancaster] is going into a renaissance. I think all of these things are what makes the city attractive to those outside."

"As long as you have crime issues, you'll have to keep addressing them and tie the public into them. You can't keep the public in the dark. That's a mistake we made in the profession years ago. We really wouldn't share crime stats with people. But in this day and age, you have to."

Sadler revealed that 15 out of some 160 sworn officers are Hispanic/Latino and "most of them are bilingual," speaking Spanish in addition to English.

He added that the department also has 25 civilian employees who are Hispanic/Latino.

Sadler said he anticipates positive effects from the opening of the Convention Center next spring. "We're in good shape," he says, denying that the police force will need additional resources to handle all of the anticipated traffic. In fact, "It helps you when you're doing grant writing" because you can identify it as a challenge or justification for federal or state assistance.

Sadler says that "about 90%" of his department is "devoted to patrol-type duties." He also has about 80 civilian employees at the Chestnut Street headquarters.

Most patrols are one-person patrols, although occasional tactical assignments or officers-in-training might involve a two-person patrol.

Officers are also out on foot, on horses, and on bikes. Sadler said that never more than one or two horses are out at a time and they're out during the day, and that bikes are used both at day and at night, and used frequently in the city's business sector.

Sadler thinks it's very important for the police to be perceived as friendly and approachable.

"You have to be accessible." He believes that "when departments modernized and they went to radio and patrol cars in the 50s and 60s... that kind of took away that human aspect of law enforcement."

"It's like that old show Dragnet: 'just the facts, man.' It was that kind of a mentality. Whereas nowadays, [we] realize that you have to get back to the way it used to be... We don't have the luxury if putting everyone out on foot patrol because [with] modern day policing and crime patterns... it'd be like reverting to the horse and carriage instead of using the motorized car. But... that's the challenge... you still have to get your people out there and talk to folks and be accessible in the community."

"The biggest complaint that all departments receive, especially urban departments, is folks feel there's not a connect with the officers riding their neighborhood," said Sadler.

"So what are you doing to encourage a positive perception?" NewsLanc asked.

"Well, it starts at the top," Sadler replied. "I'm out there. I wear my uniform 99% of the time. I like to get out in the street a couple of times during the day and at night and project that."

He went on to say, "You can ask any criminologist or sociologist today and they'll tell you that any department that expects to effect change with the community, it has to be the police executives that are committed to that before it trickles down to the troops."

"We're in good shape,"
Sadler says of his department. "Honestly, the larger the city, the harder it is for resources. Philadelphia was always kind of a struggle and we still made due."

"[F]or what we have and the amount of people we have, we're doing pretty well."

He also says the department is blessed to receive donations from a few private entities.