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Lancaster mayor speaks out about police chief's abrupt retirement

Mayor Danene Sorace said it was her doubt that Chief Jarrad Berkihiser shared her vision for the direction of the police force that led to separation negotiations.

LANCASTER, Pa. — Lancaster mayor Danene Sorace on Thursday issued a video statement on the retirement of Lancaster Police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser, saying his departure after 26 years came about due to her doubt "that Chief Berkihiser truly shared my vision for the direction of the Bureau of Police with the same passion and conviction that I have."

As a result, Sorace said, the City negotiated a separation agreement with Berkihiser based on his retirement. That agreement "honors his 26 years of service, and provides him all of hte rights and benefits afforded to every other police officer who retires from the service in the police bureau."

The Lancaster County Fraternal Order of Police issued the following statement Thursday night:

"The Lancaster County Fraternal Order of Police is reviewing the accuracy of the mayor’s statement.  We are surprised at her comments as to Chief Berkihiser’s passion and commitment regarding his leadership and direction of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police.  News stories and media clips clearly show the opposite of her comments. No one worked as hard to effectuate efforts to move the Department forward and address the mayor’s concerns than Chief Berkihiser.  We view this ironic, with all of the advances the Chief made in a short period of time(4 months), as an example of exceptional leadership. He was working tirelessly to meet the goals outlined by the mayor and her ‘inner circle’. To believe that a Leader of a police department of this size could achieve these changes In a short period of time is unrealistic. In addition, there is no prior documentation nor objective criticism by the mayor indicating her displeasure of Chief Berkihiser’s administration of the Lancaster Bureau of Police to support her claim. The Lancaster County Fraternal Order of Police stands behind its belief that the actions of the  mayor and her ‘inner circle’ was motivated by the comment made by his wife In support of President Donald Trump."

Berkihiser's retirement was announced on Oct. 2. It is effective at the end of the month.

Sorace issued the statement days after the Lancaster County Fraternal Order of Police said she had asked Berkihiser to retire after his wife, Kristy, posted positive comments about President Donald Trump on Facebook. 

In a Facebook post made after the president's rally in Middletown, in which he expressed support for law enforcement officers, Kristy Berkihiser wrote "why im voting for him again. Same reason as last time… you don't see him meeting w Jacob Blake's family or speaking to him by phone…"

Jacob Blake is the African American man who was shot seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Joe Biden met privately with Blake's family in the days after the shooting. The incident is being investigated.

"(Berkihiser) made the statement that he was asked for his resignation and it was inferred to me that it was based on that post on Facebook," John Fiorill, Immediate Past President Lancaster County Red Rose Lodge 16 Fraternal Order of Police, told FOX43 last week. "Lancaster County Red Rose Lodge 16 took this battle because it was an injustice not only to Jarrad Berkihisher, but to every policeman that might be subject to the same treatment," 

Fiorill said Berkihiser was put in a situation to either retire or be fired. 

"When you're asked to resign or you're going to be terminated, you have to have just cause," Fiorill said. "Where is the just cause? That's why the FOP is involved with this. There was no just cause for this."

Last Saturday, Sorace responded to those allegations, but said a legal agreement made as part of Berkihiser's separation agreement prevented her from providing details.

"There is an agreement that legally binds Chief Berkihiser and me to not comment on the nature of the discussions we had, nor on the factors that led to his decision to retire," she said in a statement. "It is my obligation to abide by the letter of the law in not breaching that document."

But on Thursday, Sorace said, Lancaster Newspapers | LancasterOnline successfully requested a copy of the agreement under Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law. 

"Now that the agreement has been released, I am able and legally authorized to comment on the existence of the separation agreement between the City and Chief Berkihiser," she said in her video statement. "As a result of public comments made by others -- none of whom were involved in my conversation with Chief Berkihiser, I feel compelled to make this statement."

Sorace said that in the weeks and months following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, and the demonstrations that followed on the streets of Lancaster and in communities across the country, she and Berkihiser had "many, many" conversations about racial equality, policing, and "all the ways in which Lancaster City could lead the way as it related to progressive policing in the county and the region."

Those conversations, Sorace said, were "about the work needed to effectuate the commitments that we as a city made on June 5, again on August 11 to city council, and lastly on August 25, when Chief Berkihiser presented a report to city council regarding the police use of force on the weekend of May 30 and May 31."

READ: Lancaster City Council minutes from August 25, 2020

Over the course of those discussions, Sorace said, she began to doubt that Berkihiser shared her vision for the direction of the Lancaster Bureau of Police, and ultimately led to her decision to begin separation negotiations with him.

"As mayor, it is my responsibility to ensure that the executive team I have formed is closely aligned with the goals I have set for our city," she said. "City residents -- our constituents -- should expect nothing less."

Sorace said it is her hope that the new chief of police "will help move this work forward and continue the work of building a stronger and more equitable Lancaster, block by block." 

Her full statement appears below:

   

 

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