HARRISBURG – Late last night the Pennsylvania Senate passed legislation to charge public officials with a crime for identifying a police officer who has used force against someone. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania criticized the bill for diminishing transparency at a time when communities want answers about violent incidents.
“The state Senate has made clear where they stand on police use of excessive force. They want to hide those who do it,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “This bill is the antithesis of transparency.”
Introduced by Representative Martina White of Philadelphia, House Bill 1538 prohibits a public official or employee from identifying a police officer who has used force for 30 days. If a public official violates the gag order, they can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.
Under current law, local officials determine when to identify an officer who has used force. The Philadelphia Police Department has a policy to name an officer who has shot someone within 72 hours of the incident, in most circumstances. Meanwhile, in Dauphin County, officials have still not identified the officer who shot and killed Earl “Shaleek” Pinckney in Harrisburg on August 7.
“This bill completely undermines the idea of local control,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Local officials can assess what is best for their communities. This bill disempowers them. Politicians in Harrisburg are implementing a one-size-fits-all for every community in Pennsylvania.”
Because the bill was amended by the Senate, it now returns to the House for a vote. If the House agrees to the Senate’s changes, it will head to Governor Wolf’s desk.
“This bill will heighten tensions between communities and the police,” Hoover said. “If it gets to him, Governor Wolf should veto it.”