York City officials eye surveillance network to combat crime

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow speaks at a police community forum at Stillmeadow Nazarene Church's York City campus Monday, March 1, 2021. It was the first of the monthly forums designed to strengthen the relationship between the city police department and the community. Over 50 people attended. Bill Kalina photo

Widespread video surveillance could be York City's next strategy to fight crime, Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow said Monday.

Muldrow said local private organizations are interested in raising funds for a surveillance network similar to one already in place throughout Lancaster City. Those groups would secure the funding for the camera network, Muldrow said, and an independent organization would oversee it.

"I think that it will quickly become an invaluable tool, that if we would be able to pull it off in York, would dramatically impact our communities quickly," Muldrow said.

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Muldrow's comments came Monday night at a community forum intended to boost trust between police and residents. About 50 people were in attendance. 

Multiple entities have indicated they are willing to seek funding for the program, including Better York, Muldrow said.

Better York has raised $30,000 to support a feasibility study of the program, in addition to $2,500 each from the city and York County District Attorney's Office, said Eric Menzer, chairperson of Better York. 

 “We believe there is a great degree of interest in this endeavor," he said.

Muldrow stressed that the camera network wouldn't be a matter of "Big Brother" surveillance.

Rather, he said, the cameras would be monitored by an independent group, as is the case in Lancaster City — which doesn't struggle with crime nearly as much as nearby areas such as York and Harrisburg.

The concept is not to have the police conduct surveillance during all hours of the day, but rather have citizens view footage, who then notify police if they see activity deemed suspicious. 

The cameras could be particularly helpful given that about 93% of the city's shootings occur outside in public places, Muldrow said.

Lancaster has for years used a surveillance program run by the Lancaster Safety Coalition, a nonprofit organization.

"It's been very successful," said Lancaster City Police spokesperson Bill Hickey. "We've had cameras that have helped us solve homicides, where the footage that was captured led to the identification and arrest of homicide suspects."

York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow speaks at a police community forum at Stillmeadow Nazarene Church's York City campus Monday, March 1, 2021. It was the first of the monthly forums designed to strengthen the relationship between the city police department and the community. Over 50 people attended. Bill Kalina photo

Local police have no control over the program that now includes more than 100 cameras throughout the city, Hickey said. It is all up to the Lancaster Safety Coalition.

In York City, Muldrow said he intended to adopt a similar system. 

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, though, said he completely backs the idea.

"I've gone over and visited the Lancaster system," Helfrich said. "I think it's an amazing system. And it's done with trained staff. It's definitely not a government surveillance system. It's a community system."

Implementing surveillance cameras to fight crime is in its early stages, officials have said. The possibility of York City adopting a program similar to Lancaster's is contingent upon public interest, officials said.

But other projects are in the works to combat crime, Muldrow said.

For example, the commissioner said the department is  mulling the creation of a paid cadet program for those ages 18 to 21, in addition to the York City School District's public safety academy.

The department also is looking to bring in individuals with mental health expertise to handle situations that may be beyond police officers' qualifications.

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