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Residents: More public input needed on York City surveillance proposal

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Montez Parker, a consultant hired by Better York, speaks at a public forum about a proposal to install a citywide surveillance network on Tuesday, May 4.

York City residents on Tuesday evening cast doubt on the legitimacy of a feasibility study looking into a citywide surveillance network, citing data based on what they said was an inadequate sampling pool.

Of the nearly 44,000 residents in York City, only roughly 200 had responded to an online survey meant to gauge the community's interest in the proposal. And those numbers come as the feasibility study led by consultant Montez Parker is already half completed, he said.

Parker was hired by Better York, a nonprofit organization, to conduct the study. The organization, along with the city and the York County District Attorney's office, raised more than $30,000 for the venture.

"To me, that's statistically insignificant," said Manuel Gomez, of York City. "And beyond that, it's materially insignificant. You can't say that 200 respondents conclusively means anything. Even if they said they 99% were against it, I'd say it's not enough."

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More:Public forum: Mixed reaction to York City surveillance system proposal

Tuesday marked the third public forum to discuss the proposal, which would be based on the work of the Lancaster Safety Coalition, a nonprofit organization that oversees 170 cameras in Lancaster City.

The study is slated to be completed by mid-June, Parker has said.

But responses to it have been mixed. Ramping up surveillance has been viewed by some residents and civil rights organizations as a privacy issue and a path for police to target minorities.

On the other hand, city officials have argued it would deter crime and combat gun violence in the city.

About 81% of respondents to the online survey said they either absolutely or probably support the camera system. But in total, the roughly 200 responses only account for about 0.45% of the city's population.

Parker on Tuesday evening agreed that the online survey has lacked input.

And during public forums, there has been little diversity in those who speak, whether they support or oppose the proposal.

Parker said emails about the survey, which can be found here, have been sent to nonprofit organizations, neighborhood associations and local newspapers. 

"We need to get more information," Parker said. "The truth is, we're trying to see how we engage to get people here. That's where we're at, to really get the answers to how this will happen."

Anu Banks, founder of The Movement, a local activist organization, acknowledged that a lack of survey responses could be due to flaws in the online form.

Banks serves on the steering committee of the feasibility study that works with Parker and others involved to gauge public interest.

Manuel Gomez, of York City, voices concerns about a proposed citywide surveillance network at a public forum on Tuesday, May 4.

"They don't want to fill out these surveys or whatever because they think their names are going to be used, so that's going to be one of the things we have to talk about; to make them anonymous," Banks said.

Another concern is a lack of answers for many of the questions city residents have asked during the public forums.

In addition to the past two public forums, on Tuesday evening questions were asked about how often cameras would be monitored, whether facial recognition software would be used and if the system would improve the speed of police responses.

None of those questions received straightforward answers, as Parker said the feasibility study is ongoing and details still needed to be ironed out.

Ryan Brinkerhoff, also a York City resident, said it was impossible for residents to discuss the study when the details aren't available. 

"We can't even give you input," Brinkerhoff said. "Even on this survey, we can't give you input unless we know what the plan is. And it's clear you guys don't even fully know what the plan is." 

Parker on Tuesday said the surveillance proposal is largely under consideration because of gun violence in the city.

Over the past week, that issue has become more prominent.

Since April 27, there have been six reported shootings in the city. Most recently, on Monday night, a 41-year-old person was shot at a residence in the 300 block of Smyser Street and died at WellSpan York Hospital. It was the third homicide of the year.

York City had already seen a record-breaking 14 shootings in the first quarter of this year, which ended March 31, according to police data. That was a 75% increase over the first quarter of 2020.

York City Police Capt. Daniel Aikey said  Monday during a separate forum that there had been five shootings in April, which already puts the city on pace to top the first quarter.

The most recent data available was as of April 27.

There have since been at least three shootings in the city in addition to the data Aikey presented. There also was a shooting Friday night in Spring Garden Township.

"We are not saying YorkSafeNet is going to stop all gun violence," Parker said. "But hopefully, if we see it as feasible, this could be a tool to decrease gun violence."

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