York City mayor: Investment in education is best way to reduce violent crime

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich is flanked by York City Police Department Commissioner Michael Muldrow, left, and York County District Attorney David Sunday, as he speaks during a press conference at the York City Police Department Thursday, June 24, 2021. Acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Bruce D. Brandler joined the press conference which addressed violence in York City. Bill Kalina photo

The state budget signed Wednesday by Gov. Tom Wolf allocates $30 million to address violent crime statewide — funds that come amid a surge of shootings in York City.

But Mayor Michael Helfrich — who last week joined state, county and local law enforcement officials at a news conference on York City violence — said that education funding is what really matters in the effort to make the city a safer place.

“Invest in the children and invest in the schools before the fact, and you reduce the need for Band-Aid programs after the fact,” Helfrich said when asked about state and federal aid to address crime.

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

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The state's $40.8 billion budget did bring a record single-year increase in education funding, Wolf said.

But it fell significantly short of the governor's initial wish list, which included an increase in education spending of more than $1 billion. Instead, the entire education budget saw an increase of $416 million.

Overall, York City School District will be allocated $76.3 million, an 8.7% increase over the previous fiscal year, when it received $70.2 million.

The district did not respond to requests for comment. But Wolf on Wednesday agreed that much more work needs to be done to better support schools in the state.

“This is an important step forward, and it’s worthy of celebration,” he said. “But we still have work to do. We have a long way before education is fully and fairly funded. We don’t have that yet, even with this good budget.”

Helfrich said the best way to help fund education and help the youth is to alter the state's fair funding formula to more equitably aid schools in cities such as York.

In addition, he said, the state should do away with property taxes as the primary source for funding schools, as they are a burden to families already struggling financially.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at an event in May in Mechanics­burg. Wolf is expected to sign the state budget package this week, after negotiations late last week.

“Between cuts at the federal level and lack of commonwealth support, we’ve lost our community centers, our children are struggling from underinvestment in education — and surprise, surprise, violence rates are going up,” Helfrich said.

Studies show that there is a correlation between lower education levels and the tendency to commit violent crimes.

A study in 2005 published by University of California, Berkeley, noted that education leads to better employment opportunities and a better understanding of risks, which can deter violent behavior.

The study looked at individual-level data from the U.S. Census on incarceration, state-level data on arrests from the Uniform Crime Reports and self-reported data on crime and incarceration from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

"All three of these data sources produce similar conclusions: schooling significantly reduces criminal activity," the study states.

At last week's news conference, where the acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania called York City "ground zero" for gun violence in the region, Helfrich said the city plans to use some of its $17.65 million in federal relief funds to address the recent violence.

It is unclear how many state dollars the city will receive from the $30 million budget allocation to fight violent crime.

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.

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.

According to a year-old York College study released in June 2021, 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.

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