York City officials to consider police staffing, surveillance camera issues

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

After months of discussion and debate, York City Council is set to vote Tuesday on a plan to install surveillance cameras around the city and to lift the hiring cap for its police department.

The little-known hiring cap, which dates to the 1960s, limits the department to 100 full-time officers unless a new position can be funded via external grants. Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow said the policy limits the department's responses to violent crime.

"We've been hamstrung by that limit that was set when the world had a two-parent household and everybody drank milk with their meals and 14-year-olds didn't carry guns," he said in a previous interview.

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The resolution to remove the hiring cap is paired with the official addition of a detective commander position in the police department to oversee the investigation bureau.

York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow, in center, talking to the newest officers at the York City Police Department swearing in ceremony in York on Friday, Jan.6, 2023.

Last fall, the York City Council considered amending the city code to lift the cap amid a wave of violent crime. Those discussions stalled, however, over objections raised by the Fraternal Order of the Police White Rose Lodge 15, the local police union, concerning a proposal to appoint a detective commander. That issue has since been resolved, setting the stage for the city to revisit the issue.

The department currently employs 111 police officers for a city of nearly 45,000 residents. That includes 11 officers paid for via grants, including federal COVID-19 assistance. To keep the new hires on staff when the grants are up, Muldrow said the department would need to continue to use outside funding or get the police cap removed.

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For comparison, Lancaster City has 147 officers for its 57,000 residents while Harrisburg has 128 officers for its 50,000 residents, according to the respective departments.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the national average for departments is to have 3.4 officers per 1,000 residents. York City currently has 2.5 officers per 1,000 — a number that would increase to 2.7 if Muldrow's initial staffing proposal of roughly 123 officers becomes a reality.

Camera study: The City Council is also expected to take up issuing a letter of support for the SafeNet Camera Project feasibility study under its consent agenda, which the officials use to approve or accept several items in one vote.

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The officials will once again consider a proposal to create a citywide camera network that's previously drawn criticism over privacy and civil liberties concerns. The latest iteration of the proposal, by Logos Works, would call for a non government third party to operate the network of cameras. 

"That vote is really critical," said Logos Works CEO Aaron Anderson. "And the next one is really critical for the camera network in terms of securing the feasibility of being able to actually study the work in the way we've described."

New details: Anderson presented the SafeNet project to the council at a committee meeting in late January, seeking city officials' support to use city infrastructure. There's no final plan for what the network would look like, but the council's resolution of support has revealed some new details.

The resolution would give SafeNet's second phase support and lay out guidelines to be met before final approval to use city infrastructure is granted. According to agenda records, the council requests the groups involved in SafeNet develop an "independent governance structure" to oversee the project and create a plan about constitutional safeguards and best practices. The study would address issues of financial sustainability.

Council President Sandie Walker said she doesn't have further questions at this point and wants to make sure all parties involved agree to cooperate with each other. Ultimately, she said, the matter will need to come back to the council for final approval.

"I believe that the letter of support ... answers a lot of questions I had," she said.

The next legislative council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at York City Hall, 101 S. George St. Legislative and committee meetings are livestreamed on the White Rose Community Television website, https://www.wrct.tv/, and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/@WhiteRoseCommunityTV.

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.