When is it appropriate for a police department to identify an officer who used deadly force? The Pennsylvania Legislature has an idea. (PennLive file photo)
BY WALLACE McKELVIE, PennLive, March 20, 2017
House lawmakers advanced a bill Monday that would block the public identification of law enforcement officers involved in shootings or other uses of force that resulted in the death or serious injury to another.
Currently, Police chiefs and prosecutors use their own discretion when deciding when to release information about high-profile police incidents.
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, District Attorney Ed Marsico releases the names after the investigation is completed.
House Bill 27, which passed Monday in a 157-39 vote, 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.
Last year, the same measure was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf after moving through both the House and Senate.
Supporters say the bill protects officers from harassment and possible reprisal during times of intense public scrutiny. Opponents say it protects bad cops and encroaches on the ability of local governments to make their own decisions.
Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, summed up many of the concerns about the bill: “Why must we create a law that overrides the local control many of my colleagues in this body hold so dear when it comes to further the protection of the violent few and not a peep for the victims of police violence?”
The number of incidents of retaliation against police, Rabb said, pales in comparison to the number of incidents of excessive force against black residents.
Rep. Donna Bullock, another Philadelphia Democrat, said she has family members in law enforcement but she also has two young sons who will one day be “grown black men in Philadelphia,” a demographic that could put them at risk of police brutality.
It’s a complicated issue, she said, but it’s one that’s already been wrestled with by local authorities.
“The question about whether to release a police officer’s name is not one this body should answer,” she said.
Previous iterations of the bill garnered the support of the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police and the State Troopers Association. It garnered opposition from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the state Newspaper Association and various Philadelphia officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney.
HB27 will next move to the Senate.