A group created to improve police-community relations in Lancaster city has been meeting for months to refine its objectives and develop a strategy for achieving them.

Now it wants to hear the public’s opinion.

Next month, the Community Police Working Group plans to hold three town halls. (See "If you go" sidebar for details.) At the sessions, it will “present its vision and mission, solicit feedback, and gather community input,” according to a statement.

The statement did not offer specifics on what the group has been crafting. Those will be provided at the events, police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser said.

The town halls will be followed in early March by a meeting at McCaskey High School geared toward students. Additional events will take place “as this work continues,” said Blanding Watson, president of the Lancaster chapter of the NAACP.

The working group was formed in the summer of 2018, after a video depicting a city police officer’s use of a stun gun on an unarmed, seated man went viral online, drawing widespread criticism and prompting a federal civil lawsuit that is still pending.

Local officials ruled the officer violated neither the law nor the police department’s use-of-force policy; the department had been drafting a stricter policy that was adopted soon after.

The working group is made up of representatives from city government, the police, the NAACP, nonprofits, churches and city residents.

It has advised police on recruitment, department policy and other issues, and helped “create relationships with community stakeholders throughout the city to call on in times of crisis and to help us further our outreach efforts,” Berkihiser said.

A town hall the group organized in August 2018 at Bright Side Opportunities Center drew more than 100 city residents and officials.

Last summer, the group retained Philadelphia-based consultants Intersekt Alliance to help it draft a strategic plan. The Lancaster County Community Foundation provided a $10,000 grant to cover the cost.

While other cities have similar initiatives, the working group is tailoring its efforts as closely as possible to Lancaster’s specific needs, said Milzy Carrasco, Lancaster’s director of neighborhood engagement.

The group’s goal is to have the strategic plan finished and in place by summer, she said.

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