Lancaster city Police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser gives his final radio call on Thursday, prior to his retirement set to begin Oct. 31. Berkihiser, 49, has been a member of the city police department for 26 years and had been chief since 2017.

Lancaster city police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser signed off for the last time Thursday.

On Saturday, Berkihiser, 49, of Millersville, will officially begin his retirement from the police force that he served for 26 years.

The news of Berkihiser’s retirement came as a surprise to many across the county when it was announced by Mayor Danene Sorace at an Oct. 2 news conference with Berkihiser not in attendance.

The Fraternal Order of Police initially claimed Berkihiser was forced out by Sorace because of his wife’s Facebook posts in favor of President Donald Trump. Sorace refuted this claim and said he agreed to retire because the two did not share the same vision on “progressive policing.”

Berkihiser is credited with implementing a departmentwide body camera program, improving its use-of-force policy, creating a sergeant for community engagement and hiring the city police’s first social worker.

Under Berkihiser’s leadership, the bureau responded to more than 84,000 calls and 40,000 incidents in 2019 alone, Sorace said earlier this month.

Most recently, he’s led the department through a tumultuous six months, as the United States experienced national racial unrest and calls to end police brutality following the death of George Floyd. The unrest began again in September, following the police shooting of Ricardo Muñoz in the city.

More than a dozen protesters were arrested following a night of protests that devolved into property destruction late into the evening. Local activists and community members criticized the department's response to protests for using pepper spray on groups peacefully protesting.

Saying goodbye

Berkihiser was sent off Thursday by his colleagues, who lined up outside police headquarters, according to a tweet by county Commissioner Josh Parsons. Berkihiser provided each officer with a coin with his name carved into it. 

“After more than 26 years of service to the city and county of Lancaster, I am retiring on my terms,” Berkihiser said during his final call from a squad car to Lancaster County-Wide Communications.

Berkihiser added he is proud of his service, but his proudest moment has been serving his fellow officers as police chief.

“From here on out, watch each other’s back,” Berkihiser said. “There are people out there who are going to call 911 and need your help.”

Berkihiser also quoted Proverbs 28:1: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

“Be that lion,” he told his colleagues. “Hold the thin blue line. Watch each other’s back. Stay safe. May God bless you and keep you safe, and St. Michael maintain watch over you.”