Lancaster residents, city leaders and officers discuss police community relations

Lancaster

Lancaster community members, the police department, and city officials discussed how to improve residents’ relationships with officers at the Bright Side Baptist Church Thursday.

“I want to assure you all that this is just the beginning,” said Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace. “I think we are all very hungry for our community to rise above.”

Sorace admits the city’s police department needs change. 

“It’s important that we constantly review our policies and best practices, and that’s what we have in place now, is we do have a full time policy manager,” said Lancaster Police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser.

After introductions, organizers made the media leave the public meeting, saying some people aren’t comfortable discussing their opinions on camera.

abc27 News got permission to sit in with a group, without a camera, and found that the talks were productive. Officers and citizens discussed what it’s like to be in each other’s shoes. 

“I thought it was very inspiring, thoughtful, forward, opening and so informative,” said Frank Frazier, who is from Manheim and was at the meeting.

One of the main themes of the meeting was respect for both the people in uniform and on the streets.

Residents also brought up specific concerns, and facilitators wrote down suggestions to improve relationships.

“I was really disappointed at how young the audience was skewed,” said Savannah Thorpe, a Lititz resident at the meeting. “I’m really glad that the older citizens are concerned and want to make it better, but I think we need more young people involved, for sure.”

When asked how long it would take to create systematic change in Lancaster, the discussion’s moderator Pastor Roland Forbes said, “I wish I could tell you. There is, as you know, an atmosphere in this country right now where it seems like everyone is pinning against one another…All of us are coming together to make sure that whatever the attitude is in terms of the United States is not going to affect how we govern here.”

The June tasing incident is still fresh on everybody’s minds, especially since the Lancaster County DA just announced the officer who tased Sean Williams while he was sitting on the sidewalk will not be charged.

“We still feel that Sean Williams did comply,” said Blanding Watson, who is the NAACP Lancaster branch president.

Berkihiser says the department has already tightened its rules for using tasers, and is accepting feedback on its new use of force policy.

“As we roll out policies, we’re testing our officers on the policies,” said Berkihiser.

The police chief says the department will be releasing its revised use of force policy at another public meeting September 20.

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