U.S. Attorney: York City is 'ground zero' for gun violence

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

A U.S. attorney on Thursday called York City "ground zero" for gun violence in the region as local officials attempt to combat a surge in shootings.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Bruce D. Brandler agreed with local officials also speaking at the York City Police Department that poverty and trauma are root causes for the wave of violence.

But he also commended the city for its dedication as officials mull new alternatives on top of recent initiatives to address the issue.

"I've always talked about York as being ground zero for our war on violent crime and our war on drugs," said Brandler, who was appointed in January. "It's been the most violent and drug-ridden community in our jurisdiction." 

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A surge in gun violence nationwide has police departments preparing for what they anticipate will be an unusually violent summer — a sentiment York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow disagreed with earlier this month.

Mayor Michael Helfrich on Thursday, though, said it's "reasonable" to believe that the issue will get worse over the summer.

Acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Bruce D. Brandler speaks during a press conference at the York City Police Department Thursday, June 24, 2021. He joined York City Police Department Commissioner Michael Muldrow, background, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, York County District Attorney David Sunday, and Jim Tyson, Group Violence Intervention Initiative manager, to address violence in York City. Bill Kalina photo

According to a year-old York College study released earlier this month, York's violence 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.

But Helfrich said that while the study highlighted the problem, it failed to provide a solution.

The lack of solutions comes as fewer and fewer perpetrators of gun violence are being identified through the city's anti-crime Group Violence Initiative, he said. 

"This may be an indicator of success of our GVI initiative, but it also means we need to do a better job of identifying young, violent offenders so we may try to use resources to divert them from lives that include violence," Helfrich said.

The city now plans to use some of its $17.65 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan to address the recent violence.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden suggested cities nationwide use some of the federal funds to invest in their police departments.

York City Police Department Commissioner Michael Muldrow, center, talks with attendees at a press conference outside the department in York City Thursday, June 24, 2021. Muldrow was joined by York County District Attorney David Sunday, York City Michael Helfrich and Acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Bruce D. Brandler during the press conference which addressed recent violence in York City. Bill Kalina photo

The mayor's proposals include:

  • Expanding the health bureau's counseling services to include trauma counselors who can provide services in residents' homes.
  • Creating additional programs to aid local entrepreneurs.
  • Expanding mentoring and educational programs.
  • Expanding rental assistance programs.
  • Investing more in anti-crime initiatives.

Helfrich said he hopes to work with the city council over the next six months to amend the budget and allocate federal funds to support the proposals.

There have been 39 shootings so far in the city this year, with the city breaking records in the first two quarters.

There have been seven homicides, tying the record number of deaths by shootings seen in the first half of the year in 2018. Gun possession is also up, Helfrich said.

On the other hand, there is some good news, he added.

For example, the police department has arrested 55 individuals for illegal possession of firearms and removed 92 firearms from the streets. 

In addition, Helfrich said it was also good news that there have been charges filed in 66.3% of homicides in the city over the past four years.

"Hone in the hope, York," Muldrow said. "Knowing a lot has already been accomplished, great work is being done now, and there is so much more in store. This is our community."

Muldrow listed several new initiatives attempting to curb violence that are either ongoing or upcoming.

Those include monthly public forums, free security cameras for seniors and a partnership 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.

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