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Changing Policing in City to Reflect Lessons Learned Over the Past Difficult Year

June 7, 2021 | Bureau of Police
By: John T. Bey

This piece was originally published in LNP + LancasterOnline on 5/30/21.

On May 25, 2020, the entire world changed, including me, as we watched the actions that resulted in the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police.

I have been a law enforcement professional for more than 30 years, 18 of which at a command or executive level. I have always been proud of carrying a badge and serving the public. But on that day I knew the nation, the world and my community were about to undergo an experience that would require all of us to reevaluate our perception of law and order, fairness, transparency and equal justice.

Today, we have some answers about the meaning of equal justice and fairness. We have made progress on reforming law and order and regaining public trust, but there is still much work ahead of us. Some of the same problems that confronted other cities were visible in Lancaster during the summer of 2020. And like those cities, ours struggled to recognize all the issues.

I was honored to be selected by Mayor Danene Sorace to lead the Lancaster City Bureau of Police on Dec. 7 as part the city’s effort to address the challenges revealed by the George Floyd tragedy. I believe we have made tremendous progress. I believe we still have much to do.

Since my appointment as interim chief of the Lancaster city police, a good portion of my time has been spent with Mayor Sorace developing a strategy to address the challenges inherent to Lancaster city. We agreed on a three-step approach to improving public safety.

First, the police bureau and the city administration must be aligned in pursuing the implementation of a Lancaster-specific version of 21st-century policing. Second, we need to update the policies of the city police to reflect that strategy. And third, we require seamless alignment between strategy, policy and the police engagement with our community.

During my three decades in law enforcement, I have studied the principles and fundamentals of public safety. I also have learned that every community is unique — understanding this is just as important as understanding the fundamentals of law enforcement. Understanding the essential nature of each neighborhood, the business community, the faith communities and community traditions is a vital part of policing.

Thus, the most significant change in law enforcement in Lancaster is that the mayor and the police bureau believe that public safety is a partnership between the community and those of us who are sworn to protect and serve the community. Our work requires community engagement, transparency and a primary goal of building trust and legitimacy. When the public and the police work on the same accord, we produce an enhanced quality of life and public safety for all citizens.

I have been engaging neighborhood and civic leaders, business leaders and faith leaders in authentic conversations about the public safety partnership and the feedback has been encouraging. The city police will be expanding that conversation when we launch our Facebook Live series called “Public Safety Lancaster” in the near future.

Creating new norms and changing minds is critical to our strategy but we are also in the process of making immediate policy changes. We’ve hired an independent organization to review and rewrite our policies. An integral part of the process is community engagement for input.

The policy changes are being designed to do three things: improve transparency, increase accountability and achieve the objectives of 21st-century policing.

We’re also in contact with an independent organization to conduct an analysis of our internal affairs office, which investigates complaints about policing and alleged police misconduct. The analysis will cover the complaint process, policy, associated documents, use of force and the discipline process. This process will also feature extensive community engagement for input.

Not every citizen is going to follow the intricacies of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police policy changes although we’ll be sharing them during our Facebook Live series and during City Council updates. But what the average citizen will see is a change in uniforms, bike patrols, mental health counseling, social media and online dashboards, to name a few.

Some of the changes in policing in Lancaster city won’t be visible to the public but will be fundamental to our changing approach to law enforcement. For example, these changes will be in accreditation; recruiting and training; a dynamic community dialogue process; and the establishment of a community engagement office.

A great deal has changed in the Lancaster City Bureau of Police in the past six months. We invite the public to share their thoughts with us by contacting us on the bureau website at City_Police@lancasterpolice.com.

What has not changed, however, is that the women and men of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police are committed to the fundamentals of law enforcement. We are committed to maintaining a high degree of professionalism. We are committed to engaging in a public safety partnership with our community.

John T. Bey is interim chief of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police. He was a chief master sergeant in the Air National Guard and a 25-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police, rising to the rank of captain. He also has served as the police chief in Middletown Borough.