Since 2014, police shootings have led to the deaths of unarmed African Americans in places like Ferguson, Mo., Charlotte, N.C., Tulsa, Okla., Baton Rouge, La., Cleveland, Milwaukee and elsewhere.
These fatal encounters and others have led to a series of national protests in addition to state and federal investigations.
In light of these incidents the last thing needed is less information on the circumstances surrounding deaths caused by police-involved use of force.
The legislation would prohibit disclosing information of the officer involved in a shooting or an excessive use of force incident until the conclusion of an official investigation.
The Senate Law & Justice Committee amended HB 1538 to add a 30-day blackout period and provide that after 30 days, identifying information may be disclosed. But this is left to the discretion of the police where they determine that there is no reasonable expectation of harm or upon the consent of the officer involved.
The bill’s amendment gives complete discretion to law enforcement on whether to release an officer’s name, unless the officer is charged with a crime.
The legislation is a misguided and unnecessary attempt by some Pennsylvania legislators to protect police officers. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fraternal Order of Police leaders in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh could not name any incidents in which an officer or his family was harmed or threatened during an investigation of a shooting or incident involving force.
The Philadelphia Tribune joins with the New Pittsburgh Courier and Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association (PNA), a trade organization for Pennsylvania news media, in opposing House Bill 1538.
“Police officers serve critical roles in our communities,” stated the PNA. “They also carry and use weapons that can dramatically change, or even end, a person’s life, in an instant. When a person is injured by police action, it is crucial for community members to understand the circumstances surrounding the incident. The identity of an officer, as well as the accused, is a critical piece of this understanding.”
Withholding critical information from the public on controversial shootings will only heighten tensions and reduce trust between the police and the community.