The Pennsylvania House successfully rushed a police reform bill designed at shielding police officers through the chamber for all of the wrong reasons earlier today. House Bill 1538 was introduced by Representative Martina White outside of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 Headquarters on September 3, 2015. The bill will make it illegal for police departments to release the names of police officers involved in shootings or in incidents of excessive “use of force” until they are charged with a crime. If an officer is not charged with a crime, victims, family members and the general public will not be able to find out the name(s) of the questioned officer(s) until an investigation is completed, and they will then have to go through the “Right to Know” process which takes additional time. An officer’s name can still be withheld “if the investigation does not result in charges, then local officials could release police IDs only if there’s no risk of harm.”
At the time the bill was introduced, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president John McNesby stated that the bill was designed to quell possible protests in the community where an accident occurred, and at the same event, White stated “I was watching the television and just saw how officers are being gunned down and other officers in different states had been subjected to harassment and the very things that they are trying to protect citizens like ourselves from experiencing, and to me the 72-hour rule is really just an arbitrary number.”
The controversial piece of legislation encompasses everything that is bad governing. The legislation is supported by special interests groups in the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police and the State Troopers Association. There were no hearings or time dedicated for public input. The bill remained dormant in the House Judiciary Committee until November 10, where it was sent to the floor with a unanimous 25-0 vote, and then cruised through the House with a 162-38 vote.
On the House Floor, State Representatives Brian Sims (D-Phila) and Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) urged members from both parties to vote against the legislation. They cited that bill is bad policy that is incomplete and that it breaks down transparency and trust between the public and law enforcement issues. They also took aim at the fact the bill sets out to fix a problem that does not exist in Philadelphia, nor in one of the country’s most dangerous police jurisdictions in Los Angeles County.
The past three years have been some of the safest years for police officers, but because of the lack of compiling data it is impossible to determine how many citizens are involved in officer related shootings a year. Earlier this year, The Guardian launched a project following police shootings, and as of November 16, there has been 1,000 people who were shot and killed by law enforcement. According to the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey vetoed a bill that was similar in language to Representative White’s.