'Horrific': Led by York City, county records most homicides ever in 2022
Amiyah Paige was walking near her home on West Jackson Street in York City in the early morning hours of Dec. 31 when multiple shots rang out from a passing vehicle, with one striking the 18-year-old in the back.
An hour later at the hospital, Paige became the 22nd homicide victim in York City, finishing off 2022 as the worst year for homicides ever.
It was the end of a year that started off on a record pace. York City recorded 11 homicides through the first four months of the year. That’s after having 14 total for all of 2021.
“As you know, this is a national epidemic,” York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said Friday in an interview after the city swore in new police officers to expand the department's ranks. “We were very lucky through the first couple years of COVID when cities like New York saw their homicide rate increase 50% and ours actually went down 21% for two years in a row, and that was great. Then this past year was just horrific.”
York City’s total contributed to a record year in the county as well. There were 28 homicides for 2022 in York County, one more than the previous record year of 2017, according to data from the York County Coroner’s Office.
Of those 28 homicide victims, 23 died from gunshot wounds, according to the data.
“I am actually going to address the gun violence a bit in my annual report at the end of January,” York County Coroner Pam Gay said, “because when coupled with the suicides by gun in York County, we are definitely seeing this evolve into a true public health issue.”
Although the homicide numbers are troubling, the York City Police Department has been trying to turn those numbers around.
Helfrich said the city has taken a multi-pronged approach to addressing gun violence.
“We continue to try and build on what we know is working — and that is trying to get to the young individuals who are involved in this activity,” he said. “Try to get to them. Try to get to their families. And through our Group Violence Initiative (GVI), we have the ability to communicate with individuals that are either involved with violence or at risk of being involved in violence and show them there are opportunities out here. Provide them with services. Provide them with free educational services and job training and that type of stuff.”
York City Police Capt. Daniel Lentz said the initiative has led to gun violence numbers trending downward.
“We were down on gun violence this year, nearly 2% from where we were at last year. I know our homicides were up, but gun violence was down 2%,” Lentz said. “In 2021, we were down 11% from 2020 on our gun violence. I know that the story is our homicides are up, but we have two years now where we have been tracking downward on our gun violence, and I attribute a lot of that to getting back into the GVI strategy and really focusing on that.”
Those involved with violence, Helfrich said, are being prosecuted at a federal level.
“Which means higher rates of success in prosecution as well as longer sentences and complete sentences,” he said.
York City Police are also working to get guns off the street. Lt. Matthew Irvin, leader of the department’s Violence Intervention Unit, said the unit has helped get 80 guns off the street since it started the effort in early 2022.
“We’re just not going after anybody and everybody; we have a specific list of people that’s been developed through intelligence and working with the prison and working with the district attorney’s office to identify who are the people in our community causing the violence,” Irvin said. “That’s the work they’ve done over the past year.”
While the work with GVI has seen results, Helfrich said a trend has emerged among individuals who aren’t affiliated with groups.
“We actually saw a major reduction in the activities with groups. I fear that we are a victim of this national trend where people are acting out violently,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s COVID mental health issues or what’s going on, but we saw an increase in domestic murders. We saw an increase in all types of violent activity and homicide.”
York City has recently expanded the size of its police force, which now stands at 111 officers after 12 were sworn in last week.
"But we also know that it’s very hard to stop people, particularly people who haven’t committed violent acts before,” Helfrich said. “We saw a lot of that this year. It’s very hard to get to those folks. All we are doing is reaching out as best we can and let people know, ‘Hey, if you need anything, let us know.’”
Helfrich has been working with the York County Board of Commissioners to increase mental health services for those who may act out violently.
“We’ve got a shortage of mental health workers and we also have stigmas in the community against seeking out assistance when you are depressed and you’re having relationship problems,” he said.
York City is seeking additional funds to increase tools the police can use to catch those who commit violent acts, Helfrich said.
He is asking the City Council to approve more equipment, including ShotSpotter, which is a gunshot detection system that allows officers to more precisely determine where shots are occurring instead of relying on reports only. The city is also interested in installing a community camera system similar to one in Lancaster City to put eyes on areas where violence may happen.
“I don’t know what more to say other than we keep supporting our folks,” Helfrich said.