News

In face of downward crime trend, perceptions could rule

Written by Gordon Rago/York Daily Record | Jul 18, 2016 3:14 PM
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A York City police officer searches for shell casings at the scene of a shooting on the 100 block of Stevens Avenue in York on March 30. Crime has been trending downward, York City Police, a trend that matches crime patterns across York County. (Photo: Chris Dunn, York Daily Record)

Perceptions of crime and statistics appear to differ in York. How can the community reconcile with this fact?

(York) -- About two years ago, Don Hake and his wife Marilyn were on a bus trip from York to spend a couple nights touring Vermont. At some point on the hours-long excursion north, a conversation arose between some people on the bus, who were from York County.

A guy started talking about how bad crime was in the city of York.

Hake, who was born and raised in York, did not interject. He didn't feel it was his place.

But he worries.

"Perception becomes reality," Hake said. "My concern is that it has a negative impact on business and commerce and all the things a city should experience in a positive way."

The bus conversation offers a look at a conflict between York City Police statistics -- which show that various types of crime have decreased overall compared to 30 years ago -- and the perception that crime is as bad, or worse, today as it has ever been.

"We still have people's perceptions that there are tremendous amount of issues here every day," York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said. "And that's just not the truth."

Crime is down

Crimes that include homicide, assault, rape, arson and stolen vehicles are at a 28-year low, Kahley said. There were 3,537 such crimes in 1988 and 1,744 in 2015, with a high of 3,608 in 1996, he said.

Burglaries are down, too, with 337 last year compared to 928 in 1988, a 63 percent decrease. Total crime is also down from 1988 to 2015, Kahley said.

His statistics match up with a recent crime safety report released by the York County Community Foundation.

The report, called YorkCounts Indicators, was put together by the Penn State Data Center in Harrisburg over the last 10 months, said Lise Levin, vice president of community investment with the foundation.

Data came from the Pennsylvania Unified Crime Reporting System, which is administered by the Pennsylvania State Police.

It shows a 10-year downward trend in total crime in York County.

"Our choice to do this is to provide a vehicle for people to access information and for people to use it as a resource to have their own conversation," Levin said. "I think that great things can happen when people have good, solid information."

The crime decrease matches a trend across Pennsylvania, the report shows.

That has been true, too, across the United States. The country's violent crime rate has been on a steady decline since it peaked in 1991, according to factcheck.org.

Kahley said he is hopeful that the downward trend can help the city in other ways, noting that overall safety can help other areas like business and economy.

It's hard to pinpoint why numbers are low. Kahley would like his department to take credit for the decreases, but then, he said, he'd have to do the same if there was an increase. He likes to think implementing a neighborhood unit in 2010 helped. That unit deployed officers to certain geographic areas.

The department also recently charged 21 members of the Southside Gang for violence they were allegedly committing. Twelve were later convicted.

But crime is "ever-changing," Kahley said, and numbers go up and down. One recent night last month, there were five people shot in the span of two hours in York. That same day, a county sheriff's deputy was shot in an exchange of gunfire with a man on whom his office was serving a warrant. The man was fatally shot by the deputy.

"For the average, everyday person minding their own business going to work, they don't have to fear going into the city," Kahley said. "It's like any urban city. You have to pay attention to what's going on."

The decline has not made his department allocate resources differently and has not freed up officers to work on other tasks.

"There's always so many jobs," he said. "You can't sit back."

He pointed to development in the city, saying that if the quality of life is improved, it's only natural that crime will drop.

The perception of crime

Those numbers struck some as unbelievable.

When she was told about the crime statistics, Patricia Maher was skeptical.

"That doesn't seem accurate to me," she said. "In the six and a half years I've lived here, the crime has become more prevalent and more violent."

Maher, who is retired, moved to York from Virginia, falling in love with what she remembers as a creative energy pulling her toward the city.

She's a member of the Pershing King Neighborhood Association, which covers a small portion of the city along the 100 block of South Pershing Avenue and the 100 block of South Beaver, both close to the York City Police station.

The association hasn't had a meeting in roughly two years because active members got too busy. But she felt an urge Friday to get the association active again, and so made a few calls, and plans to have a meeting early next month.

Shootings in the neighborhood are rare, but gunfire has happened nearby, she said. She spoke about an element of fear of residents within the city, not the fear typically heard of people living in York County not wanting to come in because it's too dangerous.

"There's a fear factor within the community," she said, "of people fearful of reporting and fear of retaliation, especially if they live in a neighborhood with gang activity."

She recalls previous neighborhood association meetings when York City Police officers would show up and hand out business cards, telling residents to call whenever they had a problem or wanted to talk about an issue.

Maher's perception of York is that the downtown is improving, with an increase in investment helping making the city thrive. She acknowledges revitalization improving downtown, and feels that it has, however, she worries that pushing out low-income families.

"I love York city," Maher said. "I came here after I retired. I'd never been here before. There was something about the creative energy here. It was like a magnet."

She says her neighborhood has a mix of people who live there, from the wealthy, retired, young, old and some with prior criminal records. "I treat everyone the same," she said.

Maher spoke about York and its youth struggling with drug issues, and committing crime to put food on the table.

"We have to have a community provide opportunities for our citizens to be able to make a living without resorting to crime," she said.

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

Published in News, York

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