Group: ‘All parties’ needed to improve police, community relations in Lancaster

Lancaster

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — The Lancaster Bureau of Police has made changes since a video surfaced of a man being tased by officers a year-and-a-half ago.

Monday night, the city’s Community Police Working Group hosted a town hall to get feedback on their mission and vision to improve community-police relations, and make any necessary changes.

“The purpose of the group is to reset and recharge the relationship between the community and the police,” Lancaster City Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El said.

Smith-Wade-El is a member of the group which is comprised of police representatives, Lancaster NAACP, churches, and city residents.

At the town hall, groups broke off to dissect the mission which reads, “Create a safer Lancaster City through building trust, establishing collaboration and fostering understanding among Police and Community.”

Some said the “understanding” element is crucial.

“We have refugees from different cultures and how do they feel about dealing with police?” asked Paula Jackson. “We know that there are people coming from another country where they have a fear of police.”

“The more the citizens understand the jobs they have given to the police, the better it will be,” said Wes Farmer. “I’m more interested in how the group and the citizens and police can work together to improve conditions for the future. The police are the professional citizens, they’re paid to do the jobs that every citizen should normally do, of upholding community standards.”

Community Police Working Group has been instrumental in developing a use of force policy, civil complaint form, and addressing issues in recruitment and hiring.

“We’re asking the community to come be a part of a more proactive approach that will define the relationship going forward instead of trying to adjust to things that happened previously,” Smith-Wade-El said.

He said moving forward, they want to define a value of respect that police and the community can share together.

“Second, is continued proactive and positive evaluations of our policies around all elements of public service,” Smith-Wade-El said in reference to the group’s goals.

Lancaster City Police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser said the department needs to hear what residents want if they are to continue making changes.

He admits that over the years his department has had its struggles.

“We downsized and we kinda lost touch with some of our neighborhoods,” said Berkihiser, whose department now only has 145 officers. “We used to have a budget for 178 police officers, we had 12 neighborhood sectors and we had two officers assigned on bike to each of those sectors. We don’t want this to be something that we’re dictating to our neighborhoods and community stakeholders, we want your input.”

There are two other town hall meetings where the public is invited to help evaluate the mission and vision, and offer feedback. Those meets are:

  • Feb. 10 – Crispus Attucks Community Center, 407 Howard Ave.
  • Feb. 20 – Bright Side Opportunities Center, 515 Hershey Ave.

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