New PA Law Would Protect Identity of Police Involved in Use of Force

PA Governor Has Not yet Signed New State Law That Bars Public Officials From Identifying Police Officers for 30 Days; New Law Would Overrule Philadelphia’s 72 hour policy and go against DOJ Recommendations for More Transparency

October 28, 2016

The Pennsylvania state legislature has sent to the Governor a bill that would set a statutory requirement barring any public officials or employees from identifying police officers until 30 days after the use of force incident or after the completion of the investigation. Anyone who violates the proposed law would face a second-degree misdemeanor charge. If signed by the Governor, the bill would overrule a policy adopted last year by the Philadelphia Police Department. Currently, any Philadelphia police officer who discharges a firearm in a police-involved shooting must be identified within 72 hours.

Police chiefs and prosecutors currently use their own discretion. In Philadelphia, the policy is to release names within 72 hours unless there’s a credible threat, an approach backed by the U.S. Department of Justice. In Dauphin County, the District Attorney’s Office generally releases the names after the investigation is completed. Thus, the names of Harrisburg officers involved in the fatal August shooting of Earl Shaleek Pinckney have not been released.

Supporters say the bill protects officers from reprisal during what is often a chaotic time while opponents argue that it will increase tension between communities and law enforcement. Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny County, said police officers have families to think about. If they aren’t protected, he said, morale could be damaged and departments could face further difficult in recruiting new officers. “I think you’ll see reluctance from law enforcement,” he said. “Maybe they just won’t show up the way we want them to.”

Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, disagrees: “This bill is the antithesis of transparency.” Some state legislators agreed. “What police departments decide to do in terms of releasing or not releasing officer information has been purely a local matter,” said Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery County. “What this legislation attempts to do is make the General Assembly the Philadelphia City council.” The bill, Haywood said, would serve only to incite more civil disobedience and mistrust between communities and their police forces.

Under Wolf’s Review: Legislation to Protect Identities of Officers in Police-Involved Shootings

By John Kopp 
October 27, 2016

Legislation that would protect the identities of Pennsylvania police officers when they fire weapons is on its way to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf.

The General Assembly on Thursday passed House Bill 1538, which also protects the identities of officers who use force that results in death or serious bodily harm.

Under the proposal, law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from identifying such officers until an investigation into the incident is completed, or until 30 days have passed. If an investigation results in a criminal charge against the officer, his or her name must be released.

With the exception of an attorney generauntitledl or local district attorney, anyone who violates the law could face a second-degree misdemeanor charge.

Wolf press secretary Jeffrey Sheridan said the governor is reviewing the bill. No decision has been made.

If signed by Wolf, the bill would overrule a policy adopted last year by the Philadelphia Police Department. Currently, any Philadelphia police officer who discharges a firearm in a police-involved shooting must be identified within 72 hours.

That policy was put in place following numerous protests over the police-involved killing of Brandon Tate-Brown, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Mayfair in December 2014. District Attorney Seth Williams cleared two police officers of any criminal charges in March 2015, but their names were not released until three months later.

The policy prompted backlash from the local Fraternal Order of Police and spurred state Rep. Martina White, a Republican from Northeast Philadelphia, to draft the legislation just approved by the General Assembly.

John McNesby, president of FOP Lodge No. 5, has supported the bill, saying it will protect officers and their families from “unnecessary threats.” But the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill “diminishes transparency” and implies that police have something to hide.

The bill took more than a year to reach Wolf’s desk, but it gained considerable support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. It passed the House last November. The Senate passed an amended version earlier this month. The House concurred on Thursday, sending it to Wolf.

The votes in both legislative chambers, each controlled by Republicans, drew the support of nearly every Republican and many Democrats.

The Senate passed the bill, 39-9. Ten Democrats supported the bill; only one Republican, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County, opposed it. The House passed the bill by a 151-32 vote. Only two Republicans opposed it while 43 Democrats supported it.

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