The Pennsylvania Senate is considering a piece of legislation that would protect the identities of state police officers when they use force on civilians and/or fire their weapons.
According to Philly Voice, House Bill 1538 successfully passed in the Republican-controlled senate Friday, with many Democrats jumping on board.
Last year, the Philadelphia Police Department adopted a policy mandating the release of officers’ names when they fired their weapons in police-involved shootings within 72 hours of the incident. The new bill, however, would only require the release of an officer’s name if he or she was subsequently charged with a crime in relation to the shooting or if doing so posed no threat to the officer, the news site reports.
“As we’ve seen across the country, shootings involving police officers have become so politically charged that the officers’ lives and their families can be endangered even if the use of force was justified,” said Rep. Martina White, who introduced the bill last fall. “While we need transparency whenever police are involved in a shooting, we owe our officers basic protection from threats.”
The bill’s consideration comes at a time of increased racial tensions between communities of color and police, as the country grapples with the recent string of officer-involved shootings of Black men and women.
The shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown, who was shot and killed by a Philadelphia cop during a traffic stop in December 2014, sparked national outrage and protests after the department refused to file charges against the officers or release their names, Philly Voice reports. The officers’ identities were eventually revealed, shortly after which the department enacted its new policy of releasing officers’ names.
The policy was met with some backlash, but former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey maintained that the release of officers’ names ensured transparency between the community and the department. The passing of House Bill 1538, which sailed through the House with a vote of 162-38, would essentially reverse all that.
Philadelphia Democrats Brian Sims and Jordan Harris opposed the bill and urged their fellow colleagues not to “confuse your righteous support for the FOP with support for a feckless piece of legislation.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania also weighed in, arguing that the new bill would essentially diminish transparency and give the illusion that police have something to hide.
“Local officials are best equipped to determine whether or not to release an officer’s name in this type of situation,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of ACLU Pennsylvania. “They can assess the circumstances in their communities and reach a conclusion. This is not the type of decision that should be made in the state capitol.”
“This type of policy actually harms police-community relations by withholding information from the public,” Hoover added.
Per Philly Voice, the controversial bill was taken up by the Senate Law & Justice Committee when state legislators reconvened Monday. The legislation is expected to pass in the Senate. If and when it does, it’ll land on the desk of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for signing.