YORK -- York police believe too many charges against repeat offenders are either being dropped or reduced, and city officials are asking the local solicitor's office for an explanation. In response, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett stressed the need for strong evidence to make strong cases.
In a blunt letter hand-delivered to Brackett's office Monday, York Mayor Eddie Lee, at the request of the City Council, asked for "improved cooperation and communication" between the solicitor's office and the York Police Department. Lee's letter followed a Sept. 11 shooting death on California Street that police say was gang-related.
"It seems that evidence against violent youths in our community has been collected by our police officers, and your assistants have declined to prosecute these individuals," Lee wrote.
Brackett said he was not aware there was a problem before receiving the letter. He plans to meet with Lee today to get more specifics about the town's concerns.
"His letter was very general, so I'm looking for a little bit of guidance about what he's talking about," Brackett said.
In the letter, Lee noted there often is up to a month's delay before officers hear about charges being dropped.
If the town is going to fight crime, habitual criminals need to be kept off the streets, Lee told the Enquirer-Herald.
"We don't want these people in the revolving door of getting out on the street again after the city of York police have arrested them," Lee said. "We want them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Brackett agreed that it's important to make sure habitual criminals are taken off the street. But just because someone is arrested doesn't mean they'll serve time, he said. An arrest warrant can be issued for "probable cause," meaning the person is believed to have committed the crime, but a suspect can't be convicted with only "probable cause," he said.
Enough evidence must be gathered to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt the accused is guilty, he said.
"You can only make out of that what you can," Brackett said. "It's not like you can take poor ingredients and make a gourmet dinner. If you want to eat well, you've got to buy the right ingredients."
There have been issues with the York Police Department did not bring enough evidence, he said."They have a lot of energetic and enthusiastic individuals over there, just like in any organization, but they don't always have the resources and the direction that they need to do all that they could," Brackett said.
York Police Chief Bill Mobley, however, said his officers work hard to get strong cases, and it's frustrating to them when charges are dropped or reduced.
"When you catch a guy and he's got a loaded gun in his pocket and he's a convicted felon, there shouldn't be any arguing," Mobley said. "You pop his butt and send him down to the penitentiary. You don't give him probation."
If someone has a problem with the way a particular case is being handled by his office, Brackett said, either defense attorneys or law enforcement have a right to bring it to his attention for review.
"If I disagree with a decision that an assistant has made, then I'll correct it," Brackett said. "I've done it in the past, and I'll continue to do that."
The York police recently have questioned the solicitor's office about deals with three youths who were arrested for unlawful gun possession and had their charges dropped. The solicitor's office said it was done at the request of police, but police say they made no such request.
"I don't know whether it's just a matter of miscommunications or lack of communication or whatever other reasons are out there," Mobley said. "I just want to sit down and see -- if there is some sort of a problem, what can we do to resolve these issues?"
Mobley talked with Brackett on Tuesday about the need for tougher charges, but said he wasn't satisfied with the results of his conversation.
"I'm looking at it from one perspective, and he's looking at it from a different perspective," Mobley said. "Right now, our ideas are not the same."
Community members also are upset that criminals return to their neighborhoods, Mobley said.
"They're trying to make an effort to get the area cleaned up and get the drug dealers off the street and make it a safer place for them to raise their kids," Mobley said. "To have this activity going on and shots being fired in neighborhoods -- nobody wants that."