Yeadon Borough Council voted Thursday night to fire its police chief, amid resounding boos from dozens of residents opposed to what they characterized as a racially motivated dismissal.
The 4-3 vote, which followed almost two months of controversy, prompted “vote them out” chants from residents and came after Police Chief Anthony Paparo and his attorney made the case for why he should keep his job, despite being faulted for a $387,000 settlement with the police union.
“Those dollars could have been used to build a recreation complex for this town for the children and seniors,” said Council President Sharon Council-Harris, who along with three other council members had to be escorted out by police after voting for Paparo’s firing.
Paparo exceeded the number of hours he was allowed to use part-time officers in 2019 and 2020, dismissing union pushback. Paparo insisted that calling the extra bodies in was necessary as the department found itself needing backup, especially during the 2020 summer protests and as COVID-19 wracked the force.
“You’re worth more than a bank balance,” Paparo said to the room as he explained how he took an all-hands-on-deck approach, breaking the ratio of one full-time officer to one part-time officer, always with support from Mayor Rohan K. Hepkins.
“I’m embarrassed to even be here, I’m embarrassed for him, I’m embarrassed for Yeadon and Delaware County,” said Hepkins, arguing he, not Paparo, signed off on the check.
Speaking to council members, Paparo said the use of part-timers came at a time when he was diversifying the department with new recruits.
At its worst, said the chief, he was working with eight full-time officers when he should’ve had 21.
The union filed a grievance over the hiring practice and won.
In an impassioned 15-minute defense before the council, Paparo’s attorney Harold I. Goodman alleged the four council members had been heard saying a “Black town” needed a Black police chief on multiple occasions. Goodman said he had evidence backing the claims.
For this reason, said the attorney, the four council members needed to abstain from the vote. They didn’t.
Yeadon, which has 11,500 residents, is almost 90% Black, per census data. Paparo is white.
Council-Harris said she helped hire Paparo, backing him over Black candidates.
“We hired him because we thought he was a good fit, it was not based on race, was not based on color. It was based off whether he was qualified to take the job,” said Council-Harris, adding the mayor should also resign for his lack of oversight on the matter.
Still, Paparo had no shortage of supporters, many of them Black, in the room Thursday. Several took turns offering public comment, slamming the council to resounding applause.
The chief has led the department since 2018. In that time, residents said, Paparo has improved community-police relations, wrestled a beaver, and helped fight an invasion of deer.
“He’s been extremely involved with supporting the community at home and school, bringing some of his officers in to ensure that there was police engagement with the students,” said Donna Hunter, who has lived in the borough 14 years and has a young daughter in the school district.
A petition to keep Paparo racked up more than 1,000 signatures and accused the newly sworn-in council of simply wanting to replace Paparo with a Black candidate — a motive council members have vehemently denied.
The petition lauded events such as Paparo’s monthly “Coffee with a Cop” and an online radio show where residents can share concerns with Paparo, whom some residents call Chief Chachi.
Thora Warrington, a senior citizen who has lived in the community for 37 years, said Paparo’s hands-on approach has led to a real improvement in public safety.
“His presence is positive,” said Warrington. “He’ll deal with your calls personally, safety is better than it was before.”
Though council members have said Paparo’s actions have had serious consequences for the borough’s budget, which is now under strain, supporters questioned the timing.
Last week, Hepkins and Councilmember Liana Roadcloud told The Inquirer that Councilmember Learin Johnson brought up race when discussing Paparo’s removal.
And Johnson asked one of Paparo’s subordinates, who is Black, if he’d be interested in the job.
In his public comments, former Councilmember Ronald Francis said the entire controversy had made the borough a laughingstock.
“Yeadon was a nice, quiet borough; now we’re on the news,” said Francis.
Paparo’s supporters read the move as council simply carrying out a personal agenda, jeering the elected officials as they struggled to maintain order in the room and agree on something as routine as last month’s minutes.
The council appointed Lt. Shawn Burns as the borough’s interim police chief until a permanent replacement is hired.
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, Paparo had been offered three months’ pay should he resign. Paparo denied that offer.
Goodman said his client would sue the four council members in personal and official capacities, as well as the borough, for racial discrimination. Paparo left Borough Hall holding back tears as supporters thanked him and demanded that the council members who voted against him resign.
“This is not how my career ends, 38 years of my life as a cop,” he said. “This is not how my career ends because they don’t like the color of my skin.”