Public forum: Mixed reaction to York City surveillance system proposal

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Montez Parker, the lead consultant for a feasibility study on a citywide surveillance network in York City, speaks to a crowd at a public forum on Tuesday, April 6.

York residents on Tuesday had mixed reactions to a proposal to monitor the city with a system of cameras.

More than 30 people gathered at the Agricultural & Industrial Museum on West Princess Street for the first of several planned public forums about the idea. While the lead consultant for the project stated initial online polling showed 68% of residents supported the system, feedback significantly varied at the in-person gathering.

The public forum was conducted by Montez Parker, who is leading a feasibility study of the surveillance proposal on behalf of Better York, a local nonprofit organization.

Better York, the city and the York County District Attorney's Office raised more than $30,000 to conduct the study.

"This doesn't solve our problems in our community,"  said Elizabeth Hench, a city resident who attended the meeting. "You're not going to solve the violence unless you address the root cause of the issue. The root cause of the issue is poverty."

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York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow first announced the surveillance proposal last month. He has said it could stem a surge in shootings in the city.

If a program were implemented in York, officials say it would be operated by a nonprofit organization with a community board.

That would not be Better York, as it is only leading the feasibility study, said Eric Menzer, chairperson of the organization.

Questions at Tuesday's meeting ranged from inquiries about whether personal data would be protected to whether York had the infrastructure to handle such a widespread surveillance system.

Ryan Supler, a York City Council candidate, said he supported the program because of the ongoing gun violence in the city.

"We've got kids who are getting shot," he said. "We got people who are dying in the street. We need to have another tool to conquer this problem. It's getting ridiculous."

However, Supler also said he was concerned about how the program would be funded. 

Although the nonprofit would be driven by donations, he is worried the financial burden would fall into the city's hands given how expensive the system would be to implement and maintain, he said.

It is unclear how much the proposal would cost.

But the Lancaster Safety Coalition, the nonprofit organization that inspired York's proposal, is in the process of completely upgrading its camera system and servers for about $2 million, executive director Tim Miller has said.

That organization runs a network of 170 cameras in Lancaster City, and its work has been lauded by both Muldrow and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich.

Parker said public input on the proposal will be collected through additional public forums and electronic opinion surveys over the next three to four months.

Whether the program is adopted depends on the public's response, he said.

Some audience members, though, said more preparation should have been done before engaging with the public.

"You guys don't have a plan," Ryan Brinkerhoff said. "You guys are proposing what you'd like to see. It's very clear that no one has put significant amounts of thought into the regulation of this program."

Even though police, attorneys and some residents have backed the proposal, other groups have warned of its possible impact on the city's minority community.

The American Civil Liberties Union last month slammed the York proposal, alleging implicit biases would lead to Black and brown residents being targeted. The Lancaster NAACP also acknowledged those concerns with its own system.

The York NAACP is yet to take a stance on the matter.

The next public forum will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 13, via Zoom. A link is not yet available, but those interested are encouraged to register by sending an email to YorkSafeNet@gmail.com

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