How bad is crime in York, Pa.? It’s an old question for the city but a good one

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The fair question has been posed: How bad is crime in York City? Here are two responses: The downtown’s core is safe and is increasingly inviting. And what’s new about crime in York city or, for that matter, in York County? Not to minimize the seriousness of this, but it’s been with us since before the county was founded. In fact, that’s why it was founded. This photo shows the newly tagged WeCo area and West Philadelphia Street, with Otterbein United Methodist Church, right, and the YMCA towering over the neighborhood. Also of interest: The Judicial Center: Is it York County’s 4th or 5th courthouse?

Kim Bartenslager of Dillsburg traveled to York Township’s Heritage Hills for the annual York Daily Record/WGAL town meeting in April.

When we asked the audience what was top of mind, he presented a smart question about violent crime in York city:

“Is it as bad as it seems, or is the media overblowing it?”

We were there to listen, so I did not respond, lest the session turn into a long back and forth with the large audience assembled. The idea of the town meeting is to listen – to make sure that people have their say.

A couple of days later, a York Daily Record editorial summed up my thinking:

“Certainly, the city has violent crime — much of it linked to drugs. But the downtown’s core is safe and is increasingly inviting.”

As for our coverage, we report on what works in the city and what needs work. There’s plenty of each to cover.
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It’s one thing to say the core is safe. It’s another thing to live it.

I found myself, as a suburban resident who loves the city, assessing where I go and don’t go in York. And when.

I’m OK in the downtown area until 11 p.m. I probably would be comfortable later but rarely have a reason to be in the center city after that.

I don’t have a problem walking from WeCo – west of the Codorus Creek – to say, Continental Square after dark.

Or to take a walk from my favorite free parking area near South Pine and East Market streets to Santander Stadium. I’ve often walked after dark from the area on South George Street around Cobblestones to restaurants on North George Street.

I walk around this core area knowing that Commissioner Steve Chronister was caught in a crossfire at Pine and Princess streets during daylight hours in March. In fact, something hit his car but did not damage it.

And I haven’t changed my walking patterns knowing that one of our reporters was assaulted at gunpoint at East Philadelphia and Pine streets early on a Saturday evening last fall.

I will say that I stick to main streets in the downtown after dark. That is, I’m careful not to go into certain neighborhoods.  I keep in mind the incident in early April in which a bullet hit  a computer in a police outpost in the vicinity of Sherman and King streets, wounding an officer.

But then we must remember that York County has seen four homicides this year – 1 in the city and three others in small towns elsewhere in York County. That city homicide happened in a neighborhood –  near Broad and Wallace streets.

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Crime is everywhere in York County.

Indeed, it spawned York County. In 1749, leaders west of the Susquehanna River wanted  a sheriff of their own.

They petitioned the court in Lancaster County about the many “idle and dissolute Persons” who were thieves, burglars and worse.

Their bid was successful that year, and York County had a charter and a sheriff.

Soon,  York County had a courthouse in its square and stocks stood outside that two-story brick building in the square.

Then tiny lockups became a staple in small towns around York, where those accused awaited transportation to the York County Prison.

And  the crime was not always petty. Consider the case of Curtis Sipple, the first and last person from York County to be executed at Rockview state prison. Sipple was executed in an electric chair in 1919.

The 19-year-old  killed two bunkmates with a metal bar as part of a robbery plan. The murder happened in Cly, a remote stop on the railroad in northeastern part of York County.

Just because we’ve always had crime does not minimize the problem – within parts of the city and throughout York County. Indeed, the city absolutely must find a solution to violent crime and the perception out there that York is unsafe.

The fact is that wherever you are you must  have some level of preparedness.

But that’s nothing new.

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I just read a  FlipSidePa story ’10 reasons to visit downtown York this summer.’ It had the subhead: ‘Bacon festival, beach party, baseball — York City has it all.’

Most if not all of the fun events listed are scheduled in York’s core, its downtown.

It’s simply a new day in York city, with boutiques and eateries opening everywhere.

If you’re in suburbia and haven’t been to York’s downtown recently, you should check out, say, Central Market and surrounding buildings some Saturday morning.

Idle and dissolute Persons are rare down there.

So, we’ll say it again. The downtown’s core is safe and is increasingly inviting.

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Also of interest:

“Whereas, a great Number of the Inhabitants of the Western Part of Lancaster County have by their Petition humbly represented to the Governor & Assembly of this Province the great Hardships they lye under, by being So great a Distance from the Borough of Lancaster where the Courts of Justice are held, and the Public Offices are kept; and how hard and difficult it is for the Sober and quiet Part of the Inhabitants of that Part of the County to Secure themselves against Thefts and Abuses frequently committed … by idle and dissolute Persons, who resort to the remote Parts of the Province, and by Reason of the great Distance from the Court or Prison, frequently find Means of making their Escapes; For remedying of which Inconveniences and Relief of the Inhabitants… Be it enacted … .”

Act of Colonial Assembly that created York County

safeph_500Dillsburg’s Kim Bartenslager poses a question about crime in York city to media representations at the York Daily Record/WGAL town meeting in April.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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