One Of a Kind

By on September 26, 2019

Iconic Ephrata Police Chief ‘Bill’ Harvey announces retirement

By Patrick Burns

During his five-decades-long career, retiring Ephrata Police Chief William ‘Bill’ Harvey has made thousands of decisions.

Some were common sense, others split-second, and, of course, the most difficult of all: the painstakingly, well-thought-out judgments.

In fact, just one year ago this week, Harvey made one of those latter decisions. Though not of the life-and-death variety, it was extremely unpopular and one made only once before in Ephrata in nearly 90 years.

Despite knowing he’d get incredible pushback, Harvey on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, canceled the annual Wednesday night parade at last year’s 100th Ephrata Fair, citing the possibility of severe thunderstorms.

Turned out the chief was right as a wicked storm rolled along the parade route as scheduled on Sept. 26.

“I was so happy when I heard that lightning bolt,” Harvey said with a smile (of relief) at his office last week.

The emergency planning decision, where Harvey saved thousands from serious health risks, underscored his expertise in safety, crowd control, and public event planning, which are among just a few of his many specialties.

Ephrata Police Chief Bill Harvey spoke to a group at St. Peters Catholice Church in Columbia about active attackers Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

He made another decision that, once again, surprised many when he quietly informed Ephrata Borough Council that he’ll leave his post in two weeks.

In about two months, he plans to move back with his wife to his hometown in Central Virginia, where his mother still lives.

“It’s where I was born, but it’s not Savannah, the home in my heart,” he said.

Harvey, 63, served for 22-plus years with the Savannah Police Department in Georgia. He is well-known for his print articles, webinars, podcasts, hands-on training, live speaking appearances, professional periodicals, and his engaging worldwide lectures.

He has taught delegations from foreign countries and consulted, visited with, and trained thousands of officers.

Ephrata Chief of Police William Harvey gives the address at the 9/11 ceremony. Monday, September 11, 2017

However, it’s time to “seize the opportunity” that presented itself, he said.

Though he’s “out the door” Oct. 4, Harvey said he’ll work as a “subject matter” expert. He’ll continue doing things like the live-shooter drills he did at Ephrata-area schools and businesses as well as soft-target presentations he led at local houses of worship.

Still, it will be a change of pace for the long-time first responder, who rode his “first call” in June 1973.

Harvey’s been a police officer, volunteer firefighter, an EMT, and military policemen &tstr; sometimes doing several at the same time.

“I have been on call and had a flashing light over my head for many years and I think it’s time to slow up and take a break,” he said.

Harvey, who was named Ephrata Police Chief in February 2009, served in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps., earned BA in criminology from St. Leo University, and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville.

His first experience with Ephrata was when he served as an instructor

and evaluator on the South Central Task Force and as Lebanon City Police Chief.

The 2017-18 John Radko award was presented to Ephrata Police Chief William Harvey, for his excellent record of service, dedication to the community of Ephrata and the surrounding area.

Harvey noticed something special when he trained Ephrata cops.

“They were a bit smarter, sharper, and more disciplined than a lot of the agencies I’ve seen over the years,” he said. “So, my first impression of Ephrata was these officers – even before I came here.”

The chief has close community ties in and outside Ephrata, including strong bonds with former police chaplain and Our Mother Perpetual Help Pastor Rev. John McLoughlin, veterans groups, the Northern Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, Mainspring of Ephrata, schools, youth groups, and many others.

His Honor

Harvey has an especially close relationship with Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen.

“Ralph has been a boss a friend and probably the best mayor I have ever worked for,” Harvey said.

That bond allowed them to have “open and frank discussions” that more often than not led to solutions, he said.

Mowen said he’s sad to see Harvey leave. However, he noted, Ephrata won’t be alone in missing him as the chief was always in demand by nearby municipal officials looking for advice.

“He’s probably one of, if not the, top certified emergency manager in the state,” Mowen said. “He has placed the borough in an extremely positive position when it comes to events like the fair – by mitigating problems and disasters through the programs he’s put together.”

CASEY KREIDER | Staff Photographer Ephrata police Chief William Harvey holds a card local students made for his department.

Peers

Harvey developed earnest respect among his peers as well. Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman commended Harvey’s contributions to local law enforcement.

“Chief Harvey has been a tremendous resource for the law enforcement community here in Lancaster County,” Stedman noted. “His insight and experience proved useful for many years on a variety of issues. We were fortunate to have him for as long as we did.”

Policing Style

Harvey summarizes his policing style into the simple phrase ‘You treat everybody like they are your family.’

He has written volumes on police ethics which he encapsulates in a three-prong test.

“First of all, is it legal? Is it balanced and fair to all parties concerned? And then is it ethical?” he said. “If you can’t answer all of those in the affirmative, prepare your press statement.”

Chief Harvey

Drugs

Ephrata’s drug issues have been cyclical. Harvey noted problems have vacillated during his 10 years from marijuana, heroin, bath salts, and now the opioid crisis, he said.

“You’ve got to be ahead of the curve to know what’s coming next,” he said. “That said, I am very proud of some of the end roads we’ve made…we were the first to have Narcan; established the mayor’s Ephrata Care’s initiative, and other outreaches we’ve done with addiction issues.”

Crime

Harvey subscribes to COMP-STAT, a combination of management, philosophy, and organizational management tools which he teaches.

He said hard data shows that part-one and -two crimes are successfully in decline in the Ephrata area and all of its clearance rates have exceeded the national average.

“I know we will hit rock bottom one day and we may have a jump (in crime),” he said. “But even in the worst years we’ve had, at the end of the day, there were reductions from prior years. It’s not ‘cooking the books’… we make sure we handle things rapidly, quickly and get into it before it becomes a crime spree. I’d rather catch a burglar on the first time than after he does 20 (crimes) in a row.”

Ephrata Pool

Incidents of complaints at the Ephrata Pool peaked a few years back and in 2017 the club chose to hire its own armed security on weekends.

Bridge to Recovery – Ephrata Cares  holding a Recovery Celebration Walk  at Grater Memorial Park.

“I’ve been through this in every city I lived in,” he said. “In Savannah, we had issues with pools. When I was in Lebanon City we had huge issues with pools.”

Though Ephrata has had some “ups and downs,” it appears to have stabilized.

“Once again you have a public dynamic,” Harvey said. “Some people’s expectations of behavior may be contrary to other people and how they want to relax and enjoy a water park.”

Anytime you get a large number of people at an event, you have to expect both “positive and negative interaction,” he noted, so “solving” the problem may be impossible in the midst of constant societal change.

“We’re still not there yet and probably never will be,” Harvey said.

Schools

Ephrata Area School Superintendent Brian Troop said Harvey blended his expertise and leadership while being a team player often working on complex or unpleasant projects.

“The chief has always been a solid partner for the district,” Troop noted. “It has been comforting to have a seasoned leader with so much expertise heading the local police department. While the situations that cause us to work closely with local law enforcement officials are generally not positive, having solid partners who are willing to work collaboratively has been one of the strengths Chief Harvey has elevated during his tenure. He will be missed.”

Juveniles

Harvey has always had a soft spot for kids in the neighborhood, opposing draconian policing and proactively looking at the causes of crime.

“Anytime we can have a positive interaction with kids &tstr; kids who have been subjected to some horrors – you know, maybe that one contact is not going to be a bad contact,” he said. “And who knows? Maybe one will say ‘the way I was treated, maybe I’ll want to be a cop one day’.”

Skatepark/Mountain Bike Trail

Ephrata’s chief shared a vision to bring a new skatepark to the borough – which materialized in 2014 next to the Ephrata Public Library.

While not everyone was on board with the idea, Harvey persisted, noting such things as a decline in team sports participation, more ‘loner’ kids, and proven research that the skatepark would succeed.

Skateboarders enjoy school holiday .

“It was clear cut that the skatepark would be a hit,” Harvey said. “It has been a positive and we’ve had zero to no issues there.”

The skateboard kids there are even “self-policing,” he said.

“They came to us for additional trash cans,” Harvey said.

He’s equally excited for the planned mountain bike trail that’s expected to open off the Warwick to Ephrata Rail Trail –  which also started off bumpy with some graffiti issues that appear to have been resolved.

The Heatherwood Bike Park, which will be first in the state is a collaborative effort between Mainspring of Ephrata and the Susquehanna Area Mountain Bike Association and is supported by Ephrata Borough council.

“We already have kids here with mountain bike clubs with nowhere to go,” he said. “I’m excited to see this for our youth.”

Media

Andy Fasnacht, editor of The Ephrata Review said Harvey’s 10-year local influence trickled into all facets of the community.

“Chief Harvey leaves a legacy in Ephrata with many highlights, including the expansion of the force into other municipalities, his emergency management expertise and leadership, regularly speaking to community groups and other department initiatives,” he said.

Fasnacht said Harvey’s unique policing style included an unrivaled openness with the local news media.

“Perhaps what I will remember and appreciate as much as anything was how accessible he was,” he said. “I honestly can’t recall a time when he didn’t answer the phone. Our staff really appreciated that and we certainly wish him the very best in the days ahead.”

Local businesses

Rebecca and Dave Gallagher moved from Houston in May 2009 to purchase the Historic Smithton Inn not long after Chief Harvey became Ephrata’s top cop.

Rebecca still remembers vividly watching the news one night and hearing Harvey’s distinctive southern accent as he was being interviewed.

“I still smile every time I hear his voice,” she said. “The chief has been a friend to us and a community asset to Ephrata over the years. But I also see what an amazing leader and mentor he is with his staff, so I know he’ll be leaving us in good hands.

Municipal Managers

Ephrata Borough Manager Bob Thompson and Ephrata Township Manager Steve Sawyer, both had a close working relationship with Harvey.

Thompson said he’s full of “mixed emotions for both a friend and colleague.”

“Chief Harvey provided excellent leadership combined with his experience in emergency management has kept Ephrata a safe place to live, work and play; I wish him well,” he said.

Sawyer echoed that sentiment.

“His leadership and dedication to service have been a true asset for the Ephrata community,” Sawyer said. “I want to thank him for all he has done for Ephrata Township and wish him the best in his retirement. He will be missed.”

Elected officials

State Rep. Dave Zimmerman said he often tapped into Harvey’s wealth of local information having coffee with Harvey while in Ephrata.

“Chief Harvey brought that southern hospitality along to his position and everyone appreciated it,” Zimmerman said. “In meeting some of the officers and in a ride-along it was very evident that Chief Harvey was a trusted leader. The officers respected him and held him in high regard. I will miss having coffee and catching up with what is happening in Ephrata and the surrounding area.”

State Sen. Ryan Aument praised Harvey as a “tireless advocate for public safety and our law-enforcement community.”

“I am grateful for his many years of service and wish him, and his family, well during his well-deserved retirement,” Aument noted.

Ephrata PD post-Chief Harvey

Though he refused to discuss who might take over his job &tstr; there appears a number of capable candidates on the current Ephrata PD staff &tstr; he acknowledged it will be in good hands when he’s gone.

Harvey described Ephrata PD’s staff as having “immense capabilities to multitask and be a multi-faceted department.”

“We’re not a group of specialists but we all have the ability to get the job done,” he said.

He clarified, saying “you never have that thought when you call (the station) thinking ‘gee, I wish somebody was working’.”

“There’s always somebody there with the skill set that can get the job done,” he said. “The general public does not know the ability of these people.”

Patrick Burns is news editor for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 717-721-4455.

About Patrick Burns

Social media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.

One Comment

  1. Ruby Cromwell

    September 29, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    Good luck bill
    Hope to get to appomattox to visit you and your mom

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