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United Way of Lancaster County


Downtown Investment District launches trial run of nighttime security patrol

Ewell Plaza, foreground, and Binns Park, as seen from the Christian Street Garage. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The Lancaster City Alliance’ Downtown Investment District is launching an initiative to enhance nighttime security in Lancaster’s core.

Beginning tonight, a guard from Schaad Detective Agency will make rounds from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The patrol will concentrate on the area around Binns Park and other sites where groups of people are known to congregate, said Dave Aichele, executive director of the DID, which the alliance manages.

The plan is intended to supplement the DID’s Clean Team at Binns Park and Ewell Plaza across the street. Since last fall, Clean Team members have been assigned to the block from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week. On Fridays and Saturdays they stay an extra 90 minutes, until 7 p.m.

The patrols will continue daily, Wednesday through Sunday, Aichele said, The guard will not be armed.

For now, the initiative is a pilot program and is set to run for 90 days. Toward the end, the DID board will assess its effectiveness and decide whether it should continue.

Aichele declined to disclose the contract amount with Schaad, but described it as “substantial.”

The initiative is the latest effort to improve conditions around Binns Park and Ewell Plaza. Business owners and county officials alike have complained about drug use, problems with trash, including discarded needles and human waste, and aggressive behavior among people who congregate there.

In May, LNP reported that Zamagias Properties, developer and landlord at 101NQ on Ewell Plaza’s south end, had hired Schaad to provide security.

While a large fraction of the Binns Park congregants are homeless, many are not. Advocates and researchers attribute many of the problems to the latter cohort, individuals who frequent the area and blend into the mix there to camouflage bad behavior.

Stakeholders trying to assist the unsheltered population say they are hampered by limited resources and the area’s affordable housing crisis. The city, county and the Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition are working to add shelter capacity this winter and open a homelessness services hub next fall.

Dave Aichele, right, executive director of the Downtown Investment District, speaks at a county commissioners’ work session on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. Looking on is DID board member Terry Boucard. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Aichele briefed the county commissioners on the patrol initiative at a Tuesday afternoon work session convened to hear third-party requests for funding in the 2024 county budget. The DID is among the organizations seeking an allocation.

The DID’s 2022-23 budget is just under $570,000. The majority, just over 70%, comes from a special assessment, similar to a property tax, on properties in the district.

Last year, the commissioners agreed to increase the county’s funding for the DID by 48% for 2023, from $44,455 to $65,900, but said future funding would be conditional on the DID’s Clean Teams bringing about significant improvements in Binns Park.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Josh Parsons said that in his view, the jury is still out on the Clean Team’s effectiveness. The city closed the park for renovations over the summer; when it was open, conditions were sometimes better, sometimes worse.

“I think it’s showing promise,” Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said. Commissioner John Trescot said he sees the Clean Team doing its job and added that security is essentially the city police’s responsibility rather than the DID’s.

Binns Park has been partly reopened; several areas remain off limits while they are being reseeded.

Aichele said the DID has briefed city police and most of the business owners in the area about the new nighttime patrol. The guard is to meet with Regina Cooper, the alliance’s downtown outreach worker, and city police, setting the stage for ongoing communication and collaboration.

Last month, LNP reported, city government unveiled to downtown businesses and stakeholders a plan for maintaining the quality of public spaces. The plan, a collaboration between the city, the alliance and the Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition, calls for enhancing communication, expanding homelessness outreach and housing services and bringing more activity into the city’s plazas, such as vendor kiosks or an art market.

City Hall and city police did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the alliance’s initiative.