Lancaster City unveils new “use of force” policy

It was the story that made headlines at the end of June- a Lancaster City Police Officer tasing a young man on a city sidewalk for not complying with verbal commands.

“Certainly, we definitely acknowledge that heightened the level awareness of our policy and how out of date it was,” said Mayor Danene Sorace.

That policy was called into question in the days and weeks to follow… did officers exert excessive use of force?

It was a policy city officials say they were already working on before the incident, but the backlash that ensued put that plan in turbo speed.

“We were behind. Our police bureau was behind relative to this particular policy, and now we have now caught up with other departments across the country,” said Sorace.

The new plan was implemented in August, and was presented to the public Wednesday night.

Now, the policy states officers need to use action that is proportional to the threat, meaning a man sitting on a sidewalk ignoring verbal commands is not grounds for force.

It also looks at levels of control versus levels of resistance, and there is now a big emphasis on deescalation, which before was not a part of the policy at all.

“It forces our officers to think, that they’re not just reacting on situation A, this is response B,” said Lancaster City Police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser.

And it already seems to be working.

Since the implementation of the new policy, the use of a taser against someone not responding to verbal commands has dropped 75 percent compared to last year.

The Lancaster City Police Department will now undergo 16 hours of “use of force” training each year, and all members will need to ace a test before moving forward.

Some community members we spoke with say this is a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a good start, a very good start. I hope that they will continue to evaluate it,” said Jean Weglarz, a Lancaster City resident.

Community members are encouraged to offer feedback on the new policy by clicking here: http://cityoflancasterpa.com/government/use-force-policy

The city will also hold a meeting on October 23rd at 6 o’clock to discuss the possibility of police body cameras to make sure this policy, and others, are imposed fairly.