The Williamsport Bureau of Police celebrated a small victory Thursday evening when three new officer positions were added to the force, but the overtaxed department is still a long way from being fully equipped, according to Police Chief Justin Snyder.
“We tried to get the officers out there but they’re exhausted,” Snyder said. “Right now, we’re reactive instead of proactive.”
The current complement of 48 officers are exhausted, Snyder told On the PULSE, adding that they utilize hundreds of overtime shifts a year and the mental health of the officers is a clear concern.
During the past year, 700 overtime shifts were used, according to Snyder, adding that some officers are making between $120,000 and $130,000 a year based on the overtime they are getting.
At the end of its Thursday meeting, the City Council approved the city’s 2023 budget with the three additional officer positions, bringing the department’s complement to 51.
The FBI’s 2019 crime report shows that the national average of police officers per 1,000 residents is 2.3.
In Williamsport, there are 1.6 officers per 1,000 residents, according to Snyder, with the additional three positions, there will be 1.8 officers per 1,000 residents. He added that this is based on Williamsport’s census numbers, which does not take into account the city’s transient population which is not reflected in the census tally.
Snyder said that the most common feedback he receives from members of the public is that they want to see more police interaction with the public. But he said with the current workload, officers rarely have extra time to walk the streets and talk to members of the public.
Three more positions
Snyder’s frustration was palpable as he urged Williamsport’s City Council members to approve his request for their new officer positions during their budget deliberations Thursday evening.
As the council members debated the need for three new officers, Council President Adam Yoder suggested that outside resources, such as regional policing and assistance from the state police could help the city police deal with the heavy workload.
“This is a department that is a large contributor to our annual costs,” Yoder said. “We could bring in other supports to help minimize or reduce the amount of services that we would use.”
At this, Snyder broke into the conversation asking Yoder what sources he was referencing to indicate that city police could use outside resources to police the city.
“I’ve had 51 officers put in the budget from the getgo and nobody has come talk to me about it,” Snyder said. “We can use mutual aid, but mutual aid is just that – mutual. We can’t get something without offering something in return.”
He went on, “We have less officers now than when I started in 2006 and our police officers are dealing with more … We can’t go at the rate we are going.”
Snyder urged Yoder and the other members of City Council to come to the police station and talk to him about his ideas for increasing the efficiency of the department and new ways to engage with the community. He also invented each of them to participate in a ride along with one of their officers to give them an idea of the workload during a single shift.
Williamsport crime statistics
In 2022, crime calls in Williamsport were dominated by disturbance and domestic violence, according to the Williamsport Bureau of Police’s crime states.
The crime statistics are released monthly by city police and so far in 2022, they include three homicides, 17 shots fired, 254 drug related crimes, 1,111 disturbance calls and 976 domestic violence calls.
Williamsport’s 2022 shooting investigations include the shooting of two teenagers on Boyd Street in Newberry, the homicide of Heather K Cohick in her W. Fourth St. apartment on Sept. 28, the homicide of Malik Davis, 39, in a side yard on Elmira St., on May 23, and the homicide of Ziar Young, 20, in his apartment at Victoria Gardens on Hepburn St., on Aug. 17.
No arrests have been announced in any of these shooting investigations so far.
After the Boyd Street shooting a joint press release was published from city police, the Mayor Derek Slaughter and Lycoming County District Attorney’s Office, asking the public for help identifying individuals involved.
Since this plea for assistance Snyder said he saw a change in public assistance in police investigations, and he is hopeful this will continue.
Snyder is a veteran police officer in the city, but he took on the mantle of police chief for the Williamsport Bureau of Police in May of 2021. As a younger police chief, he said he is working to modernize the department and increase transparency and community engagement.
The newest push in this direction is the purchase of body cameras for the department, which Snyder plans to begin using early next year.