Berkihiser Watson

Lancaster NAACP President Blanding Watson, left, and Lancaster police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser, right.

Officials are hoping a collaboration being rolled out this month will help Lancaster city’s police department increase the diversity of its applicant pool and make a police career accessible to more city residents. 

The department, the Lancaster NAACP, the School District of Lancaster and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology are partnering to offer a free course to prepare candidates for the written police exam.

Registration is first-come, first served. About 35 to 40 slots are available, and organizers are hoping for full enrollment, Lancaster NAACP President Blanding Watson said.

Classes will meet at the college on five consecutive Saturday mornings beginning July 27.

Lancaster’s police department is looking to hire, according to Chief Jarrad Berkihiser. It has six vacancies it wants to fill, and there nearly 30 more officers either eligible to retire or close to it, he said.

The department is posting recruitment ads on social media and law-enforcement websites and in LNP, the chief said.

Watson and Berkihiser have both said they’d like to see greater diversity among the department’s ranks.

“We want to create a department that looks more like the community we serve,” Berkihiser told LNP last year.

About 87% of city police officers are white, while Lancaster city’s population is 41% white, 39% Latino and 14% black. Fewer than 10% of the force’s police officers live in the city.

The police exam is offered by a county consortium. The next one is Sept. 8-9, with applications due by Aug. 23.

The preparation classes will be taught by volunteer instructors from the school district. They have expertise in test preparation and will focus on reading, writing and language skills as well as basic math.

While the course is open to any candidate planning to take the exam, city residents will have priority, Berkihiser said.

The NAACP will see how the classes go and fine-tune things as needed “to meet the needs of all partners,” Watson said.

The police department is underwriting the cost, which is about $2,000, Berkihiser said.

School district Superintendent Damaris Rau said she’s proud of the collaboration and hopes it encourages city residents to consider law enforcement careers.

While the four organizations' partnership is new, the initiative isn’t without precedent. The police department experimented with offering test prep on its own about 15 years ago, Berkihiser said, and former city Chief of Staff Matt Johnson offered classes last year.

The NAACP, meanwhile, previously partnered on a program with the city’s fire bureau.