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Q&A with York City Council candidates


Five Democrats — two incumbents and three newcomers — will appear on the party's May 19 ballot for York City Council.

Three four-year terms are up for grabs.

Among the candidates are two incumbents, Council President Carol Hill-Evans and Councilman Michael Helfrich. Vying for a first term on the council are Amy Chamberlin, Carla Christopher and Sandie Walker.

Chamberlin works as a tutor for English-language learners. Christopher is the city's former poet laureate who teaches creative writing at William Penn Senior High School. Walker currently serves on the York City School District school board.

Each week, The York Dispatch will ask the candidates to respond to a question about issues facing York.

This week's question: Taxes, crime and schools are frequently cited as York City's biggest issues, the first two directly within the purview of city government and the York City Council. How would you work to address York City's crime issues, particularly violent crimes, and the perception that York City is a dangerous place?

Amy Chamberlin: Data shows that violent crime in York City has decreased by 17 percent between 2008 and 2012, yet York continues to be perceived by many as a dangerous city. In order to change perceptions, we need to continue to increase community policing programs and expand neighborhood enforcement units throughout the city.

The "Take 30" program, which gets officers out walking beats in neighborhoods, is essential to help build trust between the police officers and the public. Visible police officers walking the streets gives residents and visitors more confidence that they are safe and secure. The increase in community policing programs and neighborhood enforcement units has resulted in significant reductions in crime in York City.

I support the expansion of such programs in York, because building trust between the police and the residents is essential to building a stronger community, and such programs will continue to bring decreases in our crime rates.

Carla Christopher: I will champion initiatives that encourage social connection, support safe neighborhoods and job creation, and healthy communities. York should be strong from the inside out; a city with strong infrastructure that can withstand economic declines; a strong small business community that can thrive in York; and a range of jobs and industries where Yorkers can pursue the American Dream.

I believe that by re-introducing and re-inventing neighborhood watch, Citizen Police Academy and outposts in addition to providing more extensive awareness and training in the York Police Alert Network and Citizen Observer is necessary.

By partnering with Council, City Hall, the Police Department and the Neighborhood Associations, we need to work to develop a sound infrastructure for volunteer coordination and regular citizen reporting which is followed up in a timely and efficient manor by law enforcement.

If we are willing to all work together and model for our children that cooperation and positivity are viable options for success we can present a viable alternative to the gangs and violence that otherwise may claim the next generation of Yorkers. Most importantly, we all need to share in this responsibility.

Carol Hill-Evans: Addressing crime involves building trust between the citizens and law enforcement. It's important to realize the community can't resolve crime without police nor can police resolve crime without the community.

We need to create an alternative system that avoids police knocking on the doors of citizens after a crime has occurred thereby making those citizens possible targets.

Addressing crime means we continue to encourage our residents to report crime when they witness it and give details of what they've seen, instead of allowing themselves to be afraid to step outside of their homes because the criminals have taken over their streets. It means seeking additional funding sources to be sure our neighborhood units are kept intact and teaching our residents what they need to do and know to protect themselves against crime.

Changing the perception is done over time through positive media reporting. Reporting the many good things that happen in our city through the use of available sources like our newspapers as well as other social media outlets. If two positive items could be published or posted for every one item that's negative, the good would in time begin to be how people perceive the City of York.

Michael Helfrich: Most street crime is a result of hopelessness, concentrated generational poverty and unemployment, and broken homes. There are many healthy families in York. There are others where parents are often absent due to work. Some parents are in jail, or just not there. Some parents have poor parenting skills, and others have succumbed to drugs. Children of absent, unskilled, or abusive parents want love like everyone else. If they don't get love at home, the street provides a family, a family that commits crimes to gain income and "respect." We must get to these kids, and be their family!

We must provide activities and mentoring so our young people feel respected, loved, and challenged; we must provide parenting and career training; we need jobs in York City; and we need to improve safety. Community groups and churches are rapidly expanding their mentoring, youth activities, and skills training programs.

Council needs to target federal dollars to maximize these efforts. We must help organize block watches again, and improve communication between police and citizens. Above all, Council must reduce property taxes by 20 percent to help bring jobs to city residents. Crime is the symptom. Poverty is the disease. Jobs are the cure.

Sandie Walker: York, like many other third-tier cities, has struggled with budget cuts, tax increases and crime. Our administration and police department has worked very hard over the past few years, which has resulted in overall crime lows, despite departments being understaffed. As your councilwoman, I would address York City crime issues by working with the administration to seek more funding for innovative crime prevention programs on a local, state and federal level. It's a proven fact that the most effective way to reduce crime is through prevention.

As a York City native, I understand that the perception of our city being dangerous is not the reality. Most individual perceptions of how safe or unsafe York City is has little to do with whether they have actually been to our city. As your councilwoman, I would advocate for and support activities, events and programs that will continue to encourage individuals to actually spend time in our city.