Thanksgiving came early to York on Tuesday. The holiday created for sharing and thankfulness came with a surprise from the police. And it came with blue lights, sirens and drivers worriedly ogling rear-view mirrors over potential speeding tickets and insurance points as officers arrived looking like a blue bad dream.
But these cops were armed not with tickets, but turkeys.
“Gonna make somebody’s Thanksgiving, right here,” said Lt. Dale Edwards of the York Police Department as the unmarked police truck he was driving roared down Congress Street.
In his sights was a 1997 Plymouth minivan, exhaust smoke covering the back. Somehow with its tired 4-cylinder engine knocking, the Plymouth was going a few miles an hour over the posted 25 MPH speed limit in downtown York. 25 MPH? Mules walk faster.
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But 25 is posted as the speed limit. The radar gun in Lt. Edwards hands said the van was maybe speeding a little bit. So Edwards pulled over the van.
The somebody driving that tired van was Peggy Gayle Harris, 63. Harris is disabled.
“I’m on a fixed income,” Harris said. “I barely have enough to get by.”
Edwards asked for Harris’ license and registration, his smile as wide as Congress Street in front of the York County Courthouse where the traffic stop happened.
“Be right back,” Edwards said to Harris.
Edwards sauntered back to his police vehicle, wrote up a warning for a little over the speed limit, and walked back. He handed over the warning ticket.
“Thank you,” Harris said.
Edwards, the cop, had his other hand hanging low. It sagged from a heavy weight.
“I got something else for you,” Edwards told Harris.
“Oh, no,” Harris said. “A warning is plenty.”
Edwards pulled up his hand and in it was a frozen turkey, close to 15 pounds.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Edwards told the astonished Harris and her equally astonished grandson in the passenger seat. “You ever need anything, you call the police. You call me. We are here to serve you. You matter, Ms. Harris.”
Harris held Edwards hands and tried not to cry.
“Best traffic stop I ever had,” Harris said. “Turkeys beats tickets every time.”
Harris was not alone Tuesday, as Edwards and Cpl. Allen Baker from the York Police Department spent the afternoon giving away turkeys donated to York and other police departments in York County by the Rev. Ronal King of Christians Feed the Hungry Ministries.
Baker and Edwards talked of police work being more about helping people than locking up bad guys. They proved it Tuesday.
York’s police officers in recent months have repeatedly shown hearts under those badges. In September, the officers in this small city of about 8,000 people threw a birthday party for kids whose mother was arrested for shoplifting. In June, York officers responding to a noise complaint at a birthday party joined in the dance in a viral video seen tens of thousands of times.
On Christmas Eve in 2014, Edwards gave out $1,000, ten $100 bills, donated by an anonymous York resident to drivers who were speeding just a bit over the limit, instead of tickets.
In August, the department and York’s residents collected 23 pallets of water and goods for Hurricane Harvey victims.
“People need to be reminded sometimes that we are on their side – we serve them,” said Edwards, who runs the community services division of the department.
On Tuesday, Edwards pulled over a driver named Margaret Henson.
“A tad too fast, ma’am,” Edwards said.
Henson held the steering wheel like it would fly away. Her hands relaxed when Edwards brought her a turkey instead of a ticket.
“God bless you,” Henson said to Edwards.
She admitted she never expected a turkey on Tuesday, and will help someone in need.
“Better than a ticket,” Henson smiled.
At another intersection, a surprised Sherry Sadler was thrilled to find that she received a warning for her driving speed, and a turkey to boot.
“I know just the needy family through church that this turkey will help,” Sadler said.
Sadler agreed that a turkey is better than a ticket any day. She had a great story to tell her husband – and everybody else, too – about the cops in York with the Thanksgiving turkeys instead of tickets.