Lancaster city residents and stakeholders will get a say in what characteristics they want in their next police chief, Mayor Danene Sorace told City Council on Tuesday night.

Sorace laid out her plan after reiterating that her top priority is racial equity — not just in the police force — but across the administration.

“We know that racial inequities underpin the very fabric of our nation and require deliberate commitment and action to dismantle,” Sorace said. “My job to build a stronger and more equitable Lancaster block by block is impossible when significant parts of our community are left out of our collective well-being.”

Sorace is replacing Chief Jarrad Berkihiser, who after 26 years with the department, is officially retiring at the end of the month. He has been on paid administrative leave since Oct. 2.

In a video statement last Thursday, Sorace said she and Berkihiser negotiated his retirement because she came to doubt he shared her vision for the direction of the police department, following the death of George Floyd, with the same passion as herself.

Sorace’s explanation rebutted Facebook posts by Berkihiser’s wife and comments by the local Fraternal Order of Police that Berkihiser was forced to retire because of a Facebook posting his wife had made in favor of President Donald Trump.

As for hiring a new chief, Sorace told Council the city will have community listening sessions with neighborhood and community groups and the Community Police Working Group. Surveys will be available for those who cannot make the session.

“Based on this input, we’ll develop a job description and identify key priorities for a new leader. This will be shared with council, the Community Police Working Group and the public,” she said.

The job description and application will be shared with professional police organizations, including those representing Asian, Black and Hispanic people and women, she said. A recruitment consultant will be hired to help identify candidates, and a firm will be hired to conduct background checks.

An interview panel including — at minimum — residents, business owners, clergy, police union representatives, the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office, the Community Police Working Group and council will review applications and present Sorace with two or three candidates.

Sorace didn’t give a time frame, but said she was committed to “taking the time needed to make the right decision for the future of the city.”

She’s also considering the possibility of an interim chief. For now, three captains are running the department.


For related coverage: