York's highly touted ShotSpotter system has been in operation only since May 1, but in one regard, it's already been successful.

It apparently has created the illusion of safety.

And at this point, that's all it is, an illusion.

A small sampling of city residents, quoted in a Sunday News story, said they believe the system has made the city safer. Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is it has not. So far, it has not led to the arrest of any shooting suspects. It has led police to witnesses -- heretofore reluctant witnesses -- but it has yet to dish up a suspect.

Couple that with the statistics that show only 7 percent of the noises detected by the ShotSpotters were "shots or potential shots," according to York City Police Commissioner Mark Whitman, and it's not exactly clear what results, if any, the system is showing.

The system has been tripped by firecrackers, bottle rockets, the home-run cannon at the stadium and, strangely, really hard rain and low-flying aircraft. In one instance, police reported, it did not detect what turned out to be real gunfire.

Police said the system needs time to learn how to differentiate gunfire from other noises. It already has learned to identify rain, police said. And considering the city's heavy investment in the system, it should be given time to see whether it works. But the early results are not stunning.

To its credit, though, the system, when it works, is able to pinpoint the location of a sound within feet.


But if it's picking up innocuous noises, doesn't it seem like a waste of limited police resources to send cops speeding to the sites that might or might not be crime scenes?

It's also disturbing that the police department does not make records of what the ShotSpotters spot public. It would seem that if the city wants the public's help in solving shootings, it should put that information out there, releasing it to the press and posting it on the Web, so potential witnesses can come forward.

As it is, it seems the SpotShotters are having the unintended effect of deterring witnesses. One city resident said he believes fewer people are calling police to report gunfire because they believe the ShotSpotters are reporting it for them.

Still, the SpotShotters appear to make people feel safer, even if they aren't accomplishing that. The old saying is that perception is reality and, well, if that's the perception, people will believe it's the reality.

The city's monitoring cameras have also provided an illusion of safety. Perhaps they've been more effective, but again, there are some troubling aspects to their use.

The city originally sold the public on the cameras by saying they wouldn't be used to create a kind of "big brother" surveillance network over the city. The cameras, the city administration had said, would be used in conjunction with the ShotSpotters to record possible shootings.

But now the city says the cameras are up and running 24 hours a day.

"Our intent," said Mayor John Brenner, "was never to have these cameras like a 'big brother' operation. That was never our intent."

Well, it's turned out that way.

And to be fair, the cameras have led police to lawbreakers, helping in the apprehension of a fugitive and recording acts of vandalism.

Concern over the intrusiveness of the cameras might be unfounded. They are focused on public areas and, as any lawyer will tell you, you cannot have an expectation of privacy on a public street.

Still -- while we're on the subject of illusion -- having cameras everywhere creates the perception that our society is less free than it once was.

As Ben Franklin said, "He who trades freedom for safety deserves neither."