York City surveillance feasibility study nears completion, final forum scrapped

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
In this photo taken Tuesday, May 7, 2019, is a security camera in the Financial District of San Francisco. San Francisco is on track to become the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition by police and other city agencies as the technology creeps increasingly into daily life. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

A feasibility study of a proposed citywide surveillance system in York is expected to be finished in two weeks, but it won't be presented at a final public forum as originally planned.

The study, conducted by local consultant Montez Parker on behalf of the nonprofit organization Better York, is 97% complete, Parker said Monday. Only minor edits and final details remain to put together a finished product.

However, unlike what was previously planned, there will not be a fifth public forum to break down the report for the public, he said. 

"We figured there was enough forums. And we were getting the same consistent feedback," Parker said. "The same suggestions, the same recommendations."

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Although there are no solid plans for how to disseminate the report publicly, it will likely be shared on social media and distributed to nonprofit leaders, he added.

At past public forums, residents shared their concerns.

Some were concerned about privacy issues, a lack of public input and the ability to fund the camera system, while others alleged such a system would target minorities and lead to more potentially deadly encounters between minorities and police officers.

Once the report is completed, Parker said, it will be sent to York City Council and other city leaders to see if they want to move forward with installing cameras throughout the city.

The report will make recommendations based on public input, an assessment of the city's infrastructure and the anticipated costs to install and maintain a camera system.

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.

Although the city cannot prevent a nonprofit surveillance organization from forming, City Council would need to vote on whether to allow cameras on city property, said city solicitor Jason Sabol.

"As far as I know, with the information I have, I am definitely supportive," said Council President Henry Nixon.

Councilman Lou Rivera, though, said he hasn't decided but that concerns about the system's impact on the minority community and the efficacy of such a system are legitimate.

"I think right now it’s too early to tell," he said.

Council members Edquina Washington, Sandie Walker and Judy Ritter-Dickson did not respond to requests for comment.

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.

Mayor Michael Helfrich and Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow have praised the group's work and the idea of having a widespread camera network.

Helfrich declined to comment further without seeing the final study. Muldrow was unavailable for comment.

Although the report is not complete, Parker said the surveillance system is "technically feasible" in his opinion. 

"As far as public input, we had some strong 'no's', some strong 'yes,''' but I think there's a need for it."

As of Monday, 241 people had responded to the online survey meant to gauge the public's interest. Of the respondents, 82.3% were city residents.

In total, 83% of those surveyed responded "absolutely yes" or "probably yes" when asked if they support a camera system in the city.

Meanwhile, 10% those surveyed responded "absolutely no" or "probably no," while the remaining 7% were undecided.

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