Lancaster, Pennsylvania Mayor Danene Sorace suddenly announced October 2nd that Police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser would be retiring effective October 31st. Rumors are now swirling that Mayor Sorace, who once referred to Berkihiser as a “hidden jewel within the city,” forced the Chief to step down because of pro President Trump social media comments made by the Chief’s wife Kristy Berkihiser.
The social media comments in question came after President Trump’s campaign rally at the Harrisburg International Airport on September 26th. One of Mrs. Berkihiser’s friends, a volunteer at the rally, created a social media post in which the friend praised the President for his support of law enforcement. According to news reports, Berkihiser’s friend’s post read in part how Trump “spoke so much of law enforcement and his respect and thankfulness for them.” Being the wife of a law enforcement officer, Mrs. Berkihiser responded with, “That is why I’m voting for him again. Same reason as last time. You don’t see him meeting with Jacob Blake’s family or speaking to him by phone.”
Jacob Blake was shot 7 times in a police-involved shooting August 23, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The controversial shooting sparked riots which led to widespread destruction and looting in the city of Kenosha. The incident was ruled justified by the Kenosha Police Department and a Department of Justice investigation into the shooting is still ongoing.
Former President of the Fraternal Order of Police, John Fiorill, reported that Chief Berkihiser reached out to the FOP for assistance with the matter and has been provided legal counsel. Fiorill maintains, “I and our organization fully believe that this was a political issue.” Fiorill explained that the Chief, a 26 year veteran of the force, knows not to make statements about politics and it was Chief Berkihiser’s wife that made the comments, not the Chief.
Mayor Sorace posted a response to the rumors on Facebook on October 10th. An excerpt from that statement reads, “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. It is my obligation to abide by the letter of the law in not breaching that document. I also feel morally and ethically bound to the spirit of the agreement. It is my duty as mayor to honor this agreement and I will do so.”
Community and social media outrage over the situation has been growing since allegations regarding the abrupt dismissal were brought to light. A Change.org petition was set up late last week by Kristy Fisher, a supporter of Chief Berkihiser, to have the Chief reinstated. In a statement Fisher said, “This is completely unfair. It’s a violation of freedom of speech and so if we don’t stand up now, to protect that right, we may lose it.”
As of early Wednesday morning the petition had over 11,400 signatures. Part of the petition lists some of Chief Berkihiser’s accomplishments as Lancaster Police Chief including “implementing a department-wide body-camera program, improving the department’s use-of-force policy, creating a community engagement sergeant position, and hiring the city’s first police Social Worker. Chief Berkihiser also met with protestors and marched with them following the killing of George Floyd, with intentionality of bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community.”
Mrs. Berkihiser took to social media Monday with a lengthy Facebook post defending her husband and expressing her outrage over the situation. She added a timeline of events to bolster the claim that her husband was railroaded into the decision. “We received my post via Milzy on Sunday night, by Monday at 11am he was summoned to city hall and told to resign/retire or be removed as chief by the mayor and her executive leadership team. He was given an opportunity to write a statement by 2pm which was not enough and he was told they felt MY post caused him to lose public trust and he could not come back from this. It was even acknowledged that Jarrad had NOT violated any city policy. The decision was not his or ours.”
Mrs. Berkihiser’s Full post:
Lancaster City Council met Tuesday night but Chief Berkihiser’s situation was not on the agenda. Statements taken from the Change.org petition in support of Chief Berkihiser, were submitted to the Council by Kristy Fisher to be read during public comments. The Mayor said in her October 2nd statement that she was looking for the Chief’s replacement. When news outlets reached out to the Mayor for comment Tuesday, they were told the Mayor would be talking about the issue later this week.