Study to measure York City's Group Violence Initiative might be delayed

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
The shooting happened Tuesday morning in the 500 block of North Pershing Avenue, according to York County 911. April 27, 2021.

A study meant to gauge the efficacy of York City's anti-crime Group Violence Initiative could be delayed a year over fears the COVID-19 pandemic might have skewed the data.

Conducted by York College, the review was slated to be released this year, which already has seen a record number of shootings in the first quarter.

The study was made possible in 2019 through a three-year, $360,000 federal justice assistance grant meant to support the city's GVI program.

The York County District Attorney's Office applied for the grant on behalf of a partnership that includes the DA's office, the York City Police Department and York College.

Kyle King, a spokesperson for the DA's office, confirmed the office has requested an extension on the grant.

More:Police: Three injured in two shootings in York City

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He said officials are looking to extend the study because the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have skewed the county's crime statistics.

Looking for more data: While the number of annual adult criminal cases has reached more than 9,000 in the past, last year there were 5,861. That was a 26.7% decrease from 2019, when there were 7,997 cases, King said.

Therefore, to ensure researchers have data over a more stable time period, they are looking to supply an additional year of data.

There has been a surge in gun violence in York City this year. In the first quarter of the year, which ended on March 31, there were 14 shootings — the highest number on record for a single quarter.

Since then, there have been 13 more shootings, bringing the total to 27. There have been four homicides, York City Police spokesperson Lt. Dan Lentz said.

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.

Since it was first adopted locally in 2016, city officials have adjusted the program to more heavily focus on working with the youth.

By the numbers, GVI has led to mixed results. After York City launched the program, it saw a 50% drop in shootings, from 69 in 2016 to 34 in 2017.

But since then, the trajectory has generally been upward. In the following years, there were 61, 56 and 74 shootings, respectively.

Homicides also increased following the implementation of GVI. While there were eight homicides reported in both 2016 and 2017, in the following years, there were 15, 13 and 14 homicides, respectively.

The Rev. Jim Tyson, the project manager of York's GVI program, said there is no doubt the program has been effective.

But statistically speaking, that's a difficult case to prove, given that the entire program is predicated on preventing crime.

"You can’t prove what necessarily you prevented from happening," Tyson said.

As police also have noted, the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly played a role in increased crime, Tyson said.

During the pandemic last year, cities nationwide saw a surge in violent crime as COVID-19 swept through communities and hampered local economies. Homicide rates were 30% higher in 2020 compared with 2019 in a sample of 34 U.S. cities, according to researchers with the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.

Another measure: Looking to further deter gun violence, the city has also been exploring a citywide surveillance network that officials hope would help curb violent crime.

The program would be based on the work by the Lancaster Safety Coalition, a nonprofit organization that operates 170 cameras throughout Lancaster City.

Montez Parker, the consultant leading a feasibility study to gauge the public's interest, will discuss the first draft of a separate York College study at his fourth public forum, which is to be held at 5 p.m. June 3 at Voni Grimes Gym, 125 E. College Ave.

The study, which will compare York's gun violence to other small cities, was conducted by York College's Arthur J. Glatfelter Institute for Public Policy and predates the surveillance proposal.

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