Crime initiative working despite stats, York City officials say

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
York City Police investigate a fatal shooting on Light Ave. between W. King St. and W. Poplar Ave., Sunday, March 18, 2018.
John A. Pavoncello photo

York City officials touted the success of its Group Violence Initiative at a series of pubic presentations held Thursday and Friday, despite the number of shootings remaining relatively stagnant over the three years since implementing the initiative.  

York launched the program in 2016, and saw a 50% drop in shootings — with a rise in homicides — the following year. The results in 2018, however, were not as promising. There were 61 shootings in 2018, nearly as high as 2016's 67, according to data provided by York City Police. 

"We have to understand that a reasonable expectation has to be put on police statistics," said York City Police Chief Troy Bankert during a public presentation of the Group Violence Initiative on Thursday, May 9.

"What do you really think would be a reasonable success? The idea that we will reduce crime every consecutive year, a downward slant, is not the experience of other jurisdictions that have implemented (GVI)," he said. 

The numbers only tell half the story, Bankert added.

More:Has York City's initiative been effective in curbing gun violence?

More:York City's shootings drop by half, GVI credited for reduction

Through the initiative, police and community relations have been strengthened and the city has been able to possibly prevent retaliatory shootings, he said.

"The relationships we've created through GVI, there's no way we would have been able to make that. We are swimming in the same direction," Bankert said. 

"Those relationships have helped us beyond just our Group Violence Initiative," he said. 

The city held three public presentations, one on Thursday and two on Friday. Bankert and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich were joined by criminologist David Kennedy, who founded the GVI approach. The city contracted Kennedy and the National Network for Safe Communities, based out of John Jay College in New York, through undisclosed private donors to implement the initiative. 

Bankert said since the initiative launched he keeps getting the same question from residents: "What is GVI?" 

A better public understanding of the initiative can only help it succeed, he said. A large portion of the initiative is centered around adding a moral voice to the conversation; it is one of three fundamental features of the initiative, Kennedy said. 

To demonstrate, Kennedy asked audience members to raise their hand if they were afraid of police growing up. Few hands were raised. Then, he asked them to raise their hands if they were afraid of their mothers growing up. 

Nearly every hand went up. 

While law enforcement is one of the fundamental features of GVI, the goal is to use as little law enforcement as possible, he said. There are also support and outreach services provided to help at-risk group members stabilize their lives when shifting away from violent group lifestyles.

Unlike traditional intervention strategies that focus on getting people education and jobs, GVI focuses on the "big little things," Kennedy said. 

Offering people who are scared for their lives jobs is "insulting," he said. 

"We have to meet people where they are," he said. 

Through GVI, cooperating members are connected with needed community services and resources. 

But the key component to GVI's success is the moral voice, Kennedy said. Whereas law enforcement might fail to keep violent group members from retaliating after an attack, a former basketball coach or clergy member might be successful, Kennedy said. 

Another reason Bankert gave for the city's uptick in shootings from 2017 to 2018 was numerous transitions in the police department and across city positions. Thirty percent of the department was new or in new positions – including Bankert stepping into his role, he said. Additionally, the mayoral control had changed and the initial GVI director stepped down. 

Since then, however, GVI has become a more prominent force in York, and Bankert doesn't predict it going away despite potential future transitions. 

"It's so embedded in the city and county, if I go, it's not going to matter," he said.