It’s a difficult time to be a Bradford City police officer.
With two officers out due to investigation of a complaint lodged against them, and a couple more out due to injuries, it’s up to the remaining officers to maintain law and order.
It’s a challenge that officers have met without complaint, according to Bradford City Mayor James McDonald.
“Covering shifts with reduced manpower has meant longer days for our police, but our officers haven’t made a peep about it and continue to make sure our community is still being served and protected,” McDonald said.
In the midst of adversity, officers are still out in the community each day, handling a variety of calls — and an increased number of domestic disputes since the start of the pandemic. Ongoing cases that have held officers’ attention include two alleged stabbings that occurred within the past week.
“The Bradford City Police Department is resilient and strong, despite their temporary reduced numbers,” said McDonald. “When you call, they will be there for you.”
The community is anxiously waiting to hear the resolution of complaints filed against Chief Hiel Bartlett and Patrolman Matt Gustin. A bystander videotaped the two officers arresting Matthew Confer May 5 after a reported domestic incident and filed complaints against the pair, alleging misconduct.
Bartlett and Gustin were put on paid administrative leave shortly after Confer’s arrest, and Bartlett’s status with the city changed to unpaid leave on July 16. Assistant Chief Mike Ward is serving as acting chief.
The community will have to wait a little longer for a final decision on the complaints regarding Bartlett and Gustin.
“There is a legal process that needs to be followed while dealing with personnel issues, and that process takes time,” McDonald said. “I ask that the public remain patient as we give these issues the time and attention that they deserve.”
He explained he was advised by legal counsel that city officials have already made public all the information they could at this point. The city’s attorney, Casey Graffius with Hollenbeck Law Offices, did not return a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
“The department has definitely seen its morale affected with the ongoing personnel issue involving Bartlett and Gustin and also because of a series of injuries that seem to have made their way through the ranks of our department,” the mayor said.
McDonald was unable to give specific details, but he said a couple of officers suffered injuries when they were off the clock.
A benefit was recently held at the Cow Palace to support one of the officers, Sgt. Todd Erickson, and his family, after Erickson was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.
“Todd Erickson is also sorely missed by our department, not just as an officer, but as a friend and colleague,” said McDonald. “We are all praying for him and his family during this incredibly difficult time.”
The mayor is pleased with how officers have stepped up to keep the department running.
“Acting Chief Mike Ward has done an exemplary job making sure that shifts are covered despite our roster being more depleted than usual,” McDonald said.
Additionally, steps are being taken to ease the workload on the remaining officers.
For one, city council approved the hiring of an additional officer at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“With the holes in our roster, the need to bolster our ranks became a priority,” McDonald explained. “Officer Dakota Eaton was just hired and I am confident that he will add much to our department. I’m thankful for his interest in working for our city. He wasn’t hired to replace any specific officer, but to add to our numbers in general.”
Also, he said it appears that the Bradford Area School District will be using two rather than three school resource officers in the 2020-21 school year.
“BASD Superintendent Katie Pude informed our department that she felt the school budget would only be able to cover two resource officers,” he said. “While this means less police presence at our schools, it also means that an extra officer may be available to patrol our streets and be dispatched to answer calls.”