York City Police staying optimistic as departments nationwide brace for violent summer

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow addresses recent shootings as he introduces Operation Scarecrow, a multi-agency initiative that focuses on individuals who illegally purchase and possess firearms, during a press conference at the police station in York City, Friday, April, 2, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As law enforcement agencies across the country brace for what they expect to be a violent summer, York City Police say the season could actually provide a respite from a surge in shootings.

While Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow noted that warm weather in general can contribute to an increase in crime, the fact that residents are finally seeing relief from pandemic-induced economic pain and returning to their normal social environments could create a different outcome this summer.

“We’re not sitting back and expecting or speaking into the universe that this is going to be a particularly violent summer,” he said. “I refuse to be that person. I refuse to function under that mindset.”

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

More:Police: Man injured in Saturday afternoon shooting in York City

Still, other cities nationwide are bracing for an increase in violent crime that began last year following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and has since continued, The New York Times reported. 

Analysts have said the economic woes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have been a driving factor, paired with the increase in domestic abuse as victims were locked down in their homes.

Experts have also pointed to more firearms on the streets and a distrust of law enforcement, The New York Times reported.

Violent crimes have continued to trend up in 2021, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which surveyed crime data from 63 of the country's largest police departments in a report released last month.

The departments reported 1,721 homicides in the first quarter of this year, which lasted from Jan. 1 to March 31. That's a 28.7% increase over the first quarter of last year, when there were 1,337 homicides.

Gun violence in York City is also on the rise leading into the summer. There have been 37 shootings so far in the city this year, with the city breaking records in the first two consecutive quarters. There have been six homicides.

Muldrow hopes that along with community-based initiatives, an economic upturn and newly found freedom from COVID-19 gathering restrictions will help combat the trend in York City.

“People being social again, people starting to find jobs again and people starting to thrive again,” Muldrow said. “I absolutely think it’s going to help.”

Under his leadership, the commissioner has said his department has switched up its policing strategy to largely focus on gun seizures and community outreach.

The department recently has also partnered with the York City School District to resume curfew sweeps with a focus on diversionary programs for offenders rather than citations.

In addition, the department this summer will unveil an "entertainment shuttle" and video game truck to drive through the city and provide free entertainment to the youth, Muldrow said.

Even though shootings are up this year, Muldrow asserted that shooting statistics have remained fairly stable over the past three or four years.

Police data dating back to 2017, though, shows an upward trajectory.

Most notably, shootings increased from 34 to 61 between 2017 and 2018, a nearly 80% increase. They also increased from 56 to 74 between 2019 and 2020, a 32% increase.

According to a year-old York College study released last week, York's violence also has for years been worse than other cities with similar populations and socioeconomic demographics. 

In the study that some local officials called "alarming" and "disturbing," York led 19 comparable cities in deadly gun violence between 2015 and 2019.

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 the rate of shootings resulting in death, York ranked second in the study for its average annual overall shootings between 2015 and 2019.

During that time frame, York had an average annual rate of 178 incidents per 100,000 residents. In first place, Trenton, New Jersey, had a gun violence rate of 198 per 100,000. 

Although York City's police commissioner remains optimistic, it's unclear what other departments in York County think of the upcoming summer.

Chiefs with numerous local police departments — including Hanover, Northeastern Regional, West Manchester, Spring Garden, Southern York Regional, Springettsbury Township, York Area Regional and Northern York Regional — did not respond to requests for comment.

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