York City, Pennsylvania, Mulls Citywide Surveillance System Cost


(TNS) – The finalized study assessing the feasibility of a City of York-wide monitoring network found the program feasible, but the implementation of the system would prove costly.

It would cost $ 3.4 million to fully implement a city-wide network with cameras in 55 locations, according to the study by local consultant Montez Parker, who was hired by Better York, an organization local non-profit.

The program also requires $ 501,000 in annual running costs, but Mayor Michael Helfrich said he believed the benefits far outweighed the cost.

“We are at the point where it is difficult for us to hire more police officers,” Helfrich said. “When you look at him, the [operational costs] are the cost of four police officers per year for the total maintenance. The cost, especially maintenance, is relatively low.

Some city residents in public forums have expressed concerns about the proposal, including the ability to fund the camera system, potential privacy concerns and lack of public participation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania also argued that it would create a police state targeting minorities, which would result in more potentially deadly encounters between minorities and the police.

If passed, the camera system would be based on work done by the Lancaster Safety Coalition, an independent, non-profit organization that oversees cameras at 170 locations in Lancaster City.

Lancaster’s system debuted in 2006 with cameras in 60 locations, said Tim Miller, the organization’s executive director.

Miller said the proposed operating budget of $ 501,000 was in line with his organization. But he couldn’t talk about the initial $ 3.4 million.

The organization is currently working on upgrading its camera system, servers and other technology, which Miller says will cost around $ 2.5 million.

As a nonprofit, all funding comes from donations, which any York City program would also build on, officials said. Either a new non-profit organization would have to be created, or an existing non-profit organization would oversee a local camera system.

However, although it varies each year, around 60% of the Lancaster Safety Coalition’s revenue comes from Lancaster County and Lancaster City, which means taxpayers have to foot the majority of the bill.

“Funding is the hardest part,” Miller said.

The City of York has not received any requests for funding, but that doesn’t mean it won’t participate, Helfrich said.

Kyle King, spokesperson for the York County District Office, did not respond to requests for comment on whether the office would step in if a program were implemented.

Miller pointed out that Lancaster’s program, in addition to helping police tackle violent crime, also focuses on issues such as missing persons and car crashes.

In York, however, gun violence was the determining factor in promoting a surveillance program.

There have been 45 shootings in the city so far this year. Nine of them were homicides.

The York Feasibility Study cites a 2020 report by the Arthur J. Glatfelter Institute for Public Policy at York College that showed York to be the leader of 19 comparable cities in deadly gun violence over a period of five years.

With an annual average of 39 shootings resulting in death per 100,000 population between 2015 and 2019, York was the worst among the list of 20 cities stretching from Harrisburg to Phenix City, Alabama, according to the study. The shootings resulting in death included accidents and suicides as well as homicides.

In addition to four public forums, the feasibility study garnered feedback through an online survey that received 220 responses.

While 83% of those polled supported the proposal, of which 82% were city residents, 10% opposed the proposal, according to the survey. The remaining 7% were undecided.

Helfrich, Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow and City Council Chairman Henry Nixon all support the proposal.

Nixon, who reiterated his support for the camera system on Thursday, said he was not concerned about a potential financial burden on taxpayers.

“I seriously doubt that will happen,” Nixon said. “Certainly not a large percentage. It could be a small amount funded by taxpayers. But I think you’re going to find that the community will live up to it and support it on a regular basis. “

Board member Lou Rivera said he approved of the surveillance proposal, especially because of Muldrow’s argument that it would be a crime deterrent.

However, he said, that could change if the city were to use taxpayer funds for the program.

“I’m not saying I would oppose it, but I am saying that at that point I would not support it. Not with the city’s financial difficulties, ”Rivera said.

Vice-President of City Council Sandie Walker said it was too early for her to comment on the matter as she needs more time to review the information and speak with representatives from Lancaster.

Council members Edquina Washington and Judy Ritter-Dickson did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but Nixon said members could vote on a resolution in favor of the proposal as early as October.

While the final study doesn’t explicitly state that the city should pursue the camera system, it does say it is doable and could offer a variety of benefits to the city.

The study indicates that the camera system could improve investigator productivity and free up resources. He could also provide video evidence to police and prosecutors, which would also spare witnesses who fear retaliation if they testify in court.

In addition to claiming that the city “clearly” has the infrastructure to put in place a camera system, the study also includes a list of recommendations if the city were to follow through on the proposal.

For example, it recommends that the camera system be distributed evenly throughout the city, rather than just in high crime areas, in order to avoid excessive surveillance in minority neighborhoods.

Additionally, the system should be used to assist law enforcement by notifying them of serious crimes, assisting police with investigations and helping prosecutors provide evidence, the study says.

Any footage that is not part of an ongoing investigation must be stored for 14 days, he adds.

The independent nonprofit that ends up running the system is also expected to be overseen by a nine to 11-member community council with at least seven City of York residents.

The system should also be subject to annual audits, the study said.

Helfrich pointed out that the city is far from making a decision on whether or not to adopt a surveillance network. He now intends to gather public comment on his own now that he has the study in hand, he said.

While the city cannot prevent the formation of a nonprofit surveillance organization, the city council is expected to vote on whether or not to allow cameras on city property, officials said.

© 2021 The York Dispatch, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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