A year ago following the death of George Floyd and the social unrest that broke out across the country, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace committed to making changes in the police department to improve racial equity, diversity and inclusion.
But when she made those commitments, she had no way of knowing she’d soon be searching for a new police chief. Jarrad Berkihiser, who was with the department for 26 years until October, was pushed to retire after Sorace said she began to doubt that he shared her vision for the direction of the police department.
In an interview Thursday, Sorace, who is running this year for a second term, discussed where the city stands on implementing her commitments and where the search for a permanent chief stands.
“When you look at the number of initiatives that have been undertaken since December, I think you can see that the pace is different than previously. And I give a lot of credit to (interim Chief John) Bey and the command staff because they are all working to support these initiatives,” Sorace said.
The city hired CNA Corporation, of Arlington, Virginia, at $81,022 to review police department policies and make recommendations to bring the department in line with best law enforcement practices.
The review will also help the 135-officer department as it seeks accreditation from the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. Accreditation would also make the city eligible for federal funding, Sorace said.
Accreditation can take a year to three years and the city is hoping it can be accredited in a year, Lt. Kevin Fry said.
On Monday, the police department will renew bike patrols — something it once had but cut years ago because of funding and manpower issues. Nine officers have gone through training.
It’s “something the community has asked for for a long time,” Sorace said.
All uniformed officers will also undergo crisis intervention training offered by the county’s Adult Probation and Parole Services. Previously, the 40-hour training was encouraged, but not mandatory.
Sergeants have also undergone a first-ever weeklong training program on leadership, Sorace said.
“Our street sergeants are the first line of supervision for our officers. They set the tone for our patrol officers who are working on the street and it’s really important that they lead by example and many of them do and we want to strengthen the leadership among our sergeants,” she said.
More citizen involvement
Bey, the interim chief tapped by Sorace in November, wants to have people outside the department involved in the interview process for police officer candidates.
Details aren’t fully worked out yet, but the initiative is expected to begin as soon as this fall after applicants for the hiring advisory group are selected.
The city is also having its civilian complaint and internal discipline processes evaluated, Sorace said. The city has begun releasing information on discipline and use-of-force data, and it posted the police use-of-force policy online.
“I do think that will be something we continue to do. It’s been in this period of transition and now with this review (by CNA,) there will be a process for how that data is collected and shared with the public,” Sorace said.
As for other commitments made last June, some of those, such as department-wide implementation of body cameras, were already in place. A second social worker has also been hired. The social workers help officers assess the mental health and social service needs of people they come across and connect residents with appropriate services.
Some of the protesters who were demanding changes in the police department last summer have gone quiet, Sorace said she’s not surprised.
“It’s hard to sustain that level of energy over a long period of time. I think we can recognize that a lot of work has been done and there’s a lot more work that continues and needs to happen,” she said. “The things that have been done are a reflection of a lot of conversations within the community and within the department about the kind of community we are co-creating, the safety that we are creating through trust and legitimacy. And those are essential for public safety.”
While police have been the focus of racial equity concerns, Sorace said the issues span the entire city government.
And the concerns go beyond racial equity, she said, to include a “broader conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion and making sure that when people come to work for the City of Lancaster, that they feel valued for their work and their contribution and that they feel that they can express themselves, that there a mutual respect in the workplace,” she said. “At the most basic level, if you don't respect or feel respected in your workplace, then how do you function in serving the public?”