Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

A Crime Story: In Harrisburg, the media often is the message.

Illustration by Rich Hauck.

Illustration by Rich Hauck.

Have you heard about the recent crime wave over this long, hot summer?

  • thefts
  • drug possession
  • hit and runs
  • assaults
  • vandalism

And that’s not all. Since January, there have been numerous burglaries, robberies, assaults, drug arrests and vehicle break-ins.

Where is this pit of criminal activity? No, not Harrisburg, but in the symbol of our area’s safe, wealthy, white suburb—Camp Hill.

I don’t mean to dump on Camp Hill—I like Camp Hill. Nor am I directly comparing Camp Hill to Harrisburg. Harrisburg, after all, is a densely populated city, with many times the people and poverty rate of Camp Hill. So, of course, Harrisburg has more crime—and more serious crime at that.

I’m saying that, when it comes to crime, perception can be reality. PennLive and the TV news push a daily diet of Harrisburg crime, causing people to irrationally fear and avoid the city. But when’s the last time you read about crime in everyone’s favorite, secure, West Shore town? I’m here to tell you that it’s nearly an every day occurrence.

I once had a journalism professor who spoke of the “hidden rich.” These are the people who live in huge houses off of leafy streets with names like Golf View Road and Country Club Place—and you never hear a word about them. What’s going on behind those wrought iron gates and long driveways? No one seems to know, and the state cops sure aren’t saying. But we do know what’s happening on city streets. It’s right in view, it gets all the attention of reporters, and it’s a staple of the click- and ratings-obsessed media.

Now, every media outlet has its own approach to covering crime.

I’ve long been fascinated with how the Washington Post goes about it. Get a copy of the Post, and you’ll see that the front page often has a couple of national and international stories, a policy piece, maybe the start of a lengthy feature. It rarely includes a crime story in a city dense with crime.

In the Washington Post, most crime stories are relegated to the interior pages of the “Metro” section and, even then, are tiny briefs—maybe a few paragraphs long. If you turn to page B3, you’ll see these afterthoughts under the bland heading of “Local Digest.” Here are three samples buried deep in the paper on a recent, random Tuesday.

  • “Man Shot by Agent Is Ordered Detained”
  • “Police Identify Victim in Southeast Shooting”
  • “Deaths Declared Murder-Suicide”

A few days later, there was this item: “Police Chase involving Gun Prompts Capitol Lockdown.” In this case, gunfire from a MAC-11 semiautomatic erupted from a speeding car being chased by police in the middle of the afternoon in downtown Washington, resulting in the U.S. Capitol complex being placed on lockdown, the second time that had happened in a week. This short story, nine paragraphs in total, was hidden on page B-6.

I sometimes wonder how stories like these would be handled in the Harrisburg media. No doubt, each one would include screaming headlines, multiple articles, breathless prose and hundreds of comments from people swearing they’ll never set foot in Harrisburg again for fear of their lives.

Indeed, these are very serious crimes, but the Post doesn’t exploit them. So, readers get a completely different feel for crime in D.C., perhaps a more honest one, since the chances of any individual falling victim to one of these crimes, while not zero, is quite low. It would be a tragedy if someone decided to forgo the many wonderful things in Washington because news coverage made them afraid. As for other crime stories you see each day in the Harrisburg media—muggings, burglaries, drug arrests—they’re so numerous that they don’t even rate an article in D.C.

TheBurg has its own way of covering crime. We’re not really a daily news outlet, nor do we shamelessly chase clicks for money, so we don’t usually cover individual occurrences. When we do cover crime, we typically write a trend story that tries to offer as much context as possible or a feature piece, such as the wonderful long-form story that Paul Barker wrote for our January issue about Rayon Braxton and Braxton Hall.

Sometimes, people ask me if TheBurg would consider publishing more frequently, perhaps weekly. If we did, we would give more coverage to crime stories, but, again, would try to do so in a respectful, contextual, informative and non-exploitative way. For instance, we certainly would have covered the recent tragic murder of Steve Esworthy, but would have done it, as we do everything, with the community firmly in mind.

PennLive may not cover crime in Camp Hill, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It may cover nearly every crime in Harrisburg, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is.

Harrisburg has amazing parks, restaurants, theater and nightlife. It has a professional baseball team, an incredible river, a vibrant community market, the country’s most beautiful statehouse and plenty of history. It is so much more than a crime story. It’s a city worthy of time, understanding, exploration.

To read more about crime in Camp Hill, visit

Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.


Continue Reading