Helfrich shoots down assertion that York City is in a crime wave

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Grace Quartey, owner of Grace and Associates, a York accounting firm, speaks with York City Mayor Michael Helfrich after a forum sponsored by U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) Wednesday, August, 26, 2020,  with local economic leaders and business owners regarding the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the economy. The event took place at the York County History Center’s Agricultural & Industrial Museum. Bill Kalina photo

Mayor Michael Helfrich on Tuesday night rebuffed claims that York City is experiencing a spike in violent crime amid the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest.  

The mayor's comments followed opening remarks by York City Council member Edquina Washington during a public safety committee meeting, where she claimed that the city is "plagued" by an increase in crimes and violence.

"I feel like we always feel like things are getting worse when they are around us," Helfrich said. "But it's important to step back and look at the data and know that your feelings and perceptions are not always a reality."

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As of Aug. 27, York City Police had responded to 34 shooting incidents in 2020. At that rate, the city would end the year with 43 shootings, according to police data.

That number would fall well below those of 2016, 2018 and 2019, which saw 67 shootings, 61 shootings and 56 shootings, respectively. 

As for gang-related shooting incidents, York City has had 11 in 2020, which would reach 14 at the end of the year at the current rate.

That would be the lowest number on record compared with years 2017, 2018 and 2019, which saw 15, 24 and 32 gang-related shootings, respectively.

There was no available data in 2016.

The city has also seen a general drop in a range of other crimes, said York City Police Commissioner Osborne "Moe" Robinson III.

The city police data tracked the "most significant crimes," which include homicide, nonfatal shootings, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, vehicle theft and arson.

Combined, there had been 108 incidents reported as of Aug. 27.

York City Police Commissioner Osborne Robinson, left, and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich stand together as more than 1,000 participate in the York Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest in York City, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. It would be the second day of larger scale protests in the city following the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Mn., on May 25. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"The reality, overall, in terms of the specifics and numbers, the most significant crimes are down 22% (since 2019)," Robinson said.

Helfrich noted, though, that those trends could change in the final four months of the year, adding he's "praying" that there isn't an uptick.

City officials have introduced a variety of initiatives in an attempt to curb violence in the city.

Helfrich's administration on Tuesday emphasized that, despite apparent progress eight months into the year, those initiatives have been hampered by the pandemic.

Specifically, the Group Violence Intervention initiative and the Community Ecosystem Initiative have been impacted, as both rely on contact with at-risk youth and families.

The premise of GVI is that a very small number of people in any city perpetrate the vast majority of violent crimes.

So to reduce violent crime, law enforcement has to identify and target that small group of people, who are often involved in gangs or the drug trade, or both. Those targeted during call-in presentations then carry the message back to their associates.

The ecosystem initiative divides the city into 16 neighborhoods. Each neighborhood of about 800 homes would have an assigned coordinator who would speak with the residents and connect those in need with available services.

However, with COVID-19 mitigation efforts in place, face-to-face contact is no longer an  option for the city. As of March, the city had to scale back efforts.

“A lot of what I wanted to do got curbed 60 days in when we went under COVID and, essentially, the manner in which we lived our lives changed,” Robinson said.

Going forward, the city has plans to put a GVI satellite office in the headquarters of The Movement, a local advocacy organization that helps provide resources to city residents in need.

That is particularly important because their office is on the city's east side, where there are few other resources for residents, Helfrich said.

Helfrich said the city is also looking to form partnerships with York City School District Police, as they can act as "surrogate parents" for the youth and can identify potential issues before an individual resorts to violent crime.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.