Thomas Chatman Jr., pioneering police chief: ‘I thank God and the citizens of York for the opportunity to serve them’
Thomas Chatman Jr. was a pioneering member of the York community, serving as York’s police chief in the 1970s, the first black man to do so. He is pictured here in 2006, with his patrolman’s photo in the background. Background posts: Mattie Chapman, first black elected county official profiled, Pioneering women in state politics and 10 years ago, York’s exclusive Lafayette Club became less exclusive.
On the morning after Barack Obama gained the presidency, some might wonder how minorities and women have fared in gaining public office in York County.
The York Town Square post, First York City Latino councilman temporarily state’s top appointed Dem, provides a list of minority and women achievers.
Thomas Chatman Jr. is among those atop the list.
He was the York police department’s first black detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and chief. He and Amos Palmer also were the first black city police officers to ride in squad cars… .
That information comes from a York Daily Record profile (10/30/06) of Chatman, appearing on the 50th anniversary of his joining the city police department:
Fifty years ago this Wednesday, 72-year-old Thomas Chatman Jr. first donned the uniform of a York City Police officer.
Since then, Chatman, who went on to become the city’s chief of police in 1981, has totaled six months and two days — a weekend — of retirement.
“When I was 10 years old, there were three things I wanted to do,” Chatman said. “Be a Marine, go to college and be a police officer. I accomplished all three.”
Chatman, whose family was one of many to migrate to York from Bamberg County, S.C., served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 to 1956, was a police officer from 1956 to 1986 and graduated from York College in 1979.
His tenure with the city police department included a number of firsts. He was the first black detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain and chief. He and Amos Palmer also were the first black city police officers to ride in squad cars, he said.
“It gives me a sense of pride,” Chatman said. “I thank God and the citizens of York for the opportunity to serve them and that they afforded me a good life for my family.”
After retiring from the police force in 1986, Chatman took the weekend off before becoming the director of the city’s parking bureau. He held that job for 11 years before retiring again in 1997.
Then he played golf. That kept him occupied for a number of months. Then he ran into a law clerk for a York County Common Pleas Court judge on the golf course. The law clerk told him Judge John C. Uhler was looking for a tipstaff.
He and Uhler, a York County District Attorney while Chatman was a police officer, have known each other for more than 40 years, Chatman said.
After six months of retirement, Chatman went back to work as Uhler’s tipstaff. Golf became a weekend exercise and he has been a fixture around the courthouse since then.
“I enjoy working,” Chatman said. “It gives me a purpose to get up in the morning. I firmly believe that you deteriorate if you are just sitting around all day. My father was 87 and still working.”
Chatman also lives with prostate cancer, a disease diagnosed a few years ago. He said his cancer is not cured or in remission but that he has no major symptoms and that a test last year showed it had not spread.
“I really don’t know where I’m at with it,” he said. “But, thank the Lord, I’m not suffering.”
The York native, who has a long list of volunteer work including serving on boards for the American Red Cross, Crispus Attucks, the Children’s Home of York, sheltered workshops and mental health programs, continues to offer community service by urging men 50 and older to have prostate examinations.
“The earlier you do it, the better off you are going to be,” he said.
A third retirement is nowhere in the near future, Chatman said. He wouldn’t know what to do with himself. Only so much golf can be played.