As accusations of police brutality fill newspaper headlines and social media feeds across the country, Williamsport police officers understand that even a city as small as Williamsport might be just one incident away from a violent protest.
“We are what decides that a lot of times,” said Sgt. Richard Hofford, shift supervisor with the Williamsport Bureau of Police. Hofford is keenly aware of the role he plays in keeping the peace.
But, he adds, the responsibility doesn’t lay only with him and his fellow officers. “Sometimes the people we deal with dictate the entire call and we have to respond to it accordingly.”
A native of Williamsport, Hofford became a police officer because he wanted to help people.
As a local police officer, he works hard to build relationships with the community. Hofford says this not only builds trust with people, but also helps members of the public feel safe enough to bring information to the police.
As a shift supervisor, he spends most of his time backing up his officers on calls. Hofford performs random patrols through Williamsport, making sure to keep an active presence in the city.
He jumps into action as soon as a call comes over the radio for one of his officers. Hofford often will arrive at the scene soon after the primary officer to provide assistance.
“I like to be out on the street with my guys. That’s where I need to be,” he said.
While departments across the country have been the target of controversy over reports of police brutality toward Black individuals, Hofford says local support for the police seems to have grown over the summer.
But the city department is not without controversies of its own. In mid-September, the police parking lot was filled with lewd comments and accusations of racism were written in chalk and directed toward the officers.
Multiple allegations of brutality have been levied against various officers over the years by some members of the public. Most recently a petition by an anonymous individual to fire officers Joshua Bell and Clinton Gardner has drawn more than 1,700 signatures.
Hofford doesn’t take his responsibility in the community lightly. He understands the importance of treating every person with respect and working hard to make sure everyone gets through an incident unharmed.
“We still make mistakes. Everybody’s human. Everybody makes mistakes,” Hofford said. “There’s always going to be people who just don’t want to talk to cops. They don’t like us … It’s a challenge that we have to face every day and we try to do the best we can with it and build relationships with the community.”
The veteran officer is no stranger to violent altercations. He has responded to high-speed chases, big drug busts, knife attacks and shootings. Despite Williamsport’s relatively small population size of just over 28,300, the city is no stranger to violent crime.
No matter the incident, Hofford’s first goal is to support his fellow officers and get everyone through the call safely.
“We literally depend on each other for our lives,” Hofford said of his team. “Having each other’s back out here is such an ingrained thing in us now, we literally don’t realize we are doing it.”