York City video surveillance feasibility study to wrap up next month

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.

The final draft of a feasibility study exploring a citywide surveillance system in York City will be presented to the public sometime next month.

The final report will come after a separate year-old York College study revealed the city led 19 comparable cities in deadly gun violence over a five-year period. The study was completed last summer but not released until Friday, after a request by The York Dispatch.

“There’s a need for increased measures in law enforcement,” said Montez Parker, who was commissioned by Better York to conduct the surveillance feasibility study. “I can’t tell you exactly what those needs are.”

More:York City gun violence study completed a year ago, revealed now, called 'alarming' and 'extremely disturbing'

The feasibility study will report the public's level of interest in the controversial proposal, detail whether the city has adequate infrastructure for a camera system and address concerns voiced by the public, Parker has said.

The study will be unveiled at the fifth public forum on the matter. A date has not yet been set, but it will take place sometime in mid-July.

If adopted, the camera system would be based on the work done by the Lancaster Safety Coalition, a nonprofit organization that oversees about 170 cameras in Lancaster City.

The program would also have a community board, and it would be subject to annual audits, Parker said.

Based on survey data, a majority of respondents support the system. City officials have also praised the Lancaster program.

With 244 online respondents — and 200 hard copy surveys that are still being processed —70% of respondents reported being in support of a surveillance system.

In addition, 19% of respondents had privacy concerns. In total, 75% of respondents lived in the city.

But at past public forums, opinions have been more mixed. Residents have raised concerns about privacy and a lack of public input. 

“I do have concerns in terms of civil liberties,” said the Rev. Larry Walthour, of Shiloh Baptist Church. "I understand the need for criminal activity being captured. I think maybe there should be a partnership where residents have cameras on their homes and law enforcement can partner with them to see their surveillance.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has also alleged such a system would target minorities and lead to more Black and Latino deaths at the hands of police.

The separate York College gun violence study released Friday led to mixed reactions about whether surveillance was the best next step to curb shootings.

The study was commissioned by Better York and the York County Community Foundation in March 2020. It was completed in July of that year.

With an annual average of 39 shootings resulting in death per 100,000 residents between 2015 and 2019, York was the worst among the list of 20 cities ranging from Harrisburg to Phenix City, Alabama, according to the study. 

Shootings resulting in death included accidents and suicides as well as homicides.

In addition to leading in shootings resulting in death, the study found that York also ranked second for its average annual overall shootings between 2015 and 2019.

“I’d be curious to see how much having cameras actually may reduce the crime,” said York City Police spokesperson Lt. Dan Lentz. “Because there are so many cameras out there now, and it doesn’t seem to be deterring people.”

In addition to high crime rates between 2015 and 2019, there has been a surge in shootings this year. In the first quarter of the year, which ended on March 31, there were 14 shootings — the highest number on record.

With the second quarter of 2021 ending on June 30, the city has also already broken its record for shootings during the three-month time period.

There have been 21 additional shootings so far this quarter, bringing the annual total to 35. The second-highest number of shootings during a second quarter came in 2018, when there were 18 shootings.

With the most recent homicide on Sunday night, there have been six this year.

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