Editor's Note: This story has been updated following Lancaster city council's meeting Tuesday night.
A longtime law enforcement official with decades of experience in the Pennsylvania State Police and Air National Guard will lead the Lancaster City Bureau of Police.
John T. Bey, a chief master sergeant in the Air National Guard and a 25-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police, was unanimously approved by Lancaster city council to serve as interim chief of police Tuesday night, after Mayor Danene Sorace announced Bey as her choice for the top position earlier that day.
Bey could start his duties as soon as Dec. 7.
“As mayor I have committed to build a stronger and more equitable Lancaster, block by block,” Sorace said as she introduced Bey to council at its virtual meeting. “The foundation of this requires public safety. And public safety is built on the trust between the community and the police. We have work to do, and we need a steady hand to lead our bureau and build the bonds of trust within our community. I believe John Bey can help us move forward.”
The announcement comes almost a month after former chief Jarrrad Berkihiser gave his final radio call. His retirement was announced abruptly on Oct. 2. In the weeks after, Berkihiser’s wife alleged that her husband was fired because she posted favorable comments about President Donald Trump on social media. Sorace later said Berkihiser was encouraged to retire because he did not share her views on how the city police force should be managed.
City officials said they will soon begin a nationwide search for a permanent police chief.
Bey said he agrees that the city should conduct a nationwide search, but that he is “100%” interested in staying permanently in the position.
"The citizens in the community, they are owed a nationwide search... but at the end of the day I think John Bey will still be standing here as your chief," he said. "I'm not trying to sound cocky or anything, but I want to be your chief.”
Bey’s top priorities are equity in policing and transparency, which have been shaped by his decades of law enforcement experience and his personal experience as an African American man living in Pittsburgh, he said. He also listed de-escalation training as a foundation of his policing vision.
“All of that collective experience, personal and professional, leads me to develop a philosophy of policing is very simple: police services should be vetted in a fair and equitable way,” he told the council.
Although he will serve on an interim basis, he said he will immediately begin taking action to make necessary charges within the bureau.
“I’m not coming in to warm a seat or hold the line until someone else is hired, I’m here to discharge the duties as chief of police,” Bey added, and noted he will address policy or disciplinary actions within the department when necessary.
Bey is a Pittsburgh native, who joined the U.S. military in 1986 and began his career in policing at Pennsylvania State Police Troop J in Lancaster in 1989. He spent time in Lancaster city during this time, building relationships with residents and Lancaster city officers, he said. Bey then rose in the ranks within the State Police up to lieutenant, then became a patrol section commander overseeing a troop encompassing six counties, then oversaw criminal investigations. He eventually moved to the State Police’s Heritage Affairs Office, which oversees hate and bias crimes, and then into multiple educator roles.
In addition to his numerous leadership roles within the Pennsylvania State Police, Bey served in the Air Force Reserves for 20 years as an electrician, then a financial management official. He served for two years as the police chief in Middletown Borough, before returning to the Air National Guard.
Bey met with city council last Friday and with the city’s community police working group Monday evening. He retired last week from his position as the superintendent of the 193rd Special Operations Comptroller Flight, 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Middletown.
Bey also received unanimous support from the police bureau’s command staff and executive leadership team for the position, Sorace said.
Bey is a Elizabethtown College graduate, holding a bachelor of arts degree in corporate communications, and graduated from the FBI National Academy and the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy. He's served in the military since 1986, the city said in a release.
Multiple community members offered public comment that they wanted the city to approve Bey as interim chief, including Alexa Wise, who was one of the protesters arrested in September following the police killing of Ricardo Muñoz.
“I have looked up your service record and you are extremely decorated and l really, really hope and I encourage council to vote you in today because, man, I think you are the right choice,” she said.