Pennsylvania Legislature Looking To Hide The Names Of Cops Who Deploy Excessive Or Deadly Force

from the while-victims'-full-names-and-criminal-records-are-dumped-immediately dept

Pennsylvania is looking to regress. Police accountability is always a struggle, but the state legislature wants to take a huge step backwards. A bill sitting on the governor’s desk would allow law enforcement agencies to withhold the names of officers who deploy excessive force, possibly indefinitely.

The decision to release names of officers deploying excessive or deadly force has usually been made at the local level by each individual department. Some were better than others at doing so. Some, like Philadelphia’s police department — moved more proactively, instituting a 72-hour release policy in accordance with DOJ recommendations. This discretion would be removed and replaced with a state law that would only serve to further separate officers from accountability.

That this bill is even on the governor’s desk is largely due to a local police union’s power, as Reggie Shuford of the ACLU explains:

On September 11, 2015, Pennsylvania State Rep. Martina White — who represents a district in northeastern Philadelphia, and who received a political endorsement from the local Fraternal Order of Police — introduced HB 1538. A direct response to [Philadelphia Police Chief Charles] Ramsey’s 72-hour policy, the bill was designed to shield the names of officers involved in shootings. HB 1538 would have made it illegal for any public official to release the name of an officer involved in a shooting unless that officer was charged with a related crime.

This version of the bill didn’t make it far, but a watered-down version has replaced it that’s not much better.

On October 26 this year, Pennsylvania’s State Senate passed a form of the bill that sets a 30-day prohibition on releasing the name of police officers who use force on the job. The state House passed it the next day.

Thirty days is far longer than the DOJ-recommended 72 hours. Worse, the bill robs local PDs of control, subjecting them to state standards, even when delaying the release of officers’ names may do more overall harm to the department and its relationship to its community.

Then there’s the fact that the law doesn’t mandate a release once 30 days have elapsed. All it does is ensure that no information can be released during this time period. If departments want to withhold names indefinitely, nothing in the law prevents them from doing so.

As Shuford points out in his article, police officials should be given the latitude to release names earlier, especially considering the collateral reputational damage done to every officer who works for the same department. While many officials claim that “safety concerns” or “ongoing investigations” prevent the release of officers’ names in use of force incidents, this secrecy does no favors for other officers on the force.

The Hummelstown Police Department was transparent after officer Lisa Mearkle killed David Kassick in February 2015. That transparency protected her fellow officers from unnecessary public pressure…

When the public doesn’t know who the “bad apples” are, it’s pretty easy for them to hate the whole barrel. The proposed law does nothing to foster relationships with the public and forces more proactive agencies to sit on their hands as situations deteriorate.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Pennsylvania Legislature Looking To Hide The Names Of Cops Who Deploy Excessive Or Deadly Force”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

What do you get when a country is run by cowards?

You get the current US. Sure we are still technically a democracy but its getting really hostile towards its citizens. Politicians and government officials (police officers in this case) try to enact the kind of protectionist crap to cover their abuses that would look right at home in any totatalitarian or dictatorial governments

JustMe (profile) says:

Strongmen and dictatorial governments

This is why we must not elect the current ‘strongman’ vying for public office in the US. This sort of practice will become institutionalized, along with victim blaming and shaming*.

Lest anyone think I have a liberal agenda please keep in mind that I’m basing my decision this election on the things uttered by the screaming carrot deamon for the past year. I don’t care for his opponent, but this dude will ruin the country I fought for.

*Notice also that Comey’s FBI outed a minor victim just last week.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"Sounds great to me" - Every thug in the state

So if you assault or even kill someone it’s illegal to mention your name or let the public know about what you’ve done within a month of it happening, with it being entirely optional to do so after that. Along with the police I’m sure every mugger, person with a penchant for violence and/or murderer will absolutely love this, as it makes it a lot easier for them to get away with their crimes.

… what’s that you say, it only applies to the police, because they’re special little snowflakes who’s feelings would be hurt if the public knew what they were doing? And just because such treatment would be an amazing boon to criminals without a badge at allowing them to hide their actions and continue to prey on the public, that doesn’t at all have anything to do with why the police and their unions want the power?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "Sounds great to me" - Every thug in the state

We are already there. I mean, it really has never been otherwise.

The moment government has been created that dichotomy exists for better or for worse. There is a reason the Declaration of Independence states that its words will be needed again in the future!

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

We have been hell on wheels busy changing the government for light and transient causes. We are in need of providing new Guards for our future security. First we try it peacefully through the election process, but if that keeps getting screwed up like it has been, someone is going to try doing it by force.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Sounds great to me" - Every thug in the state

I can see it now. A national referendum to hold a constitutional convention with the intent to clarify and enhance the existing document so that there is much less latitude in what the government is allowed to, or not to do. Politicians, lobbyists, and corporate shills not invited.

Top of the rank for agenda issues, 1rst and 4rth Amendments, eliminating secret courts, secret laws, and secret interpretations of laws, full disclosure at all times by every governmental entity, elimination of public service unions, elimination of political parties, requirement for the government to fund all elections, change in voting methods, elimination of professional lobbyists, rules for candidates to be held immediately liable for campaign promises, elimination of ideological considerations in appointing and when confirming judges as well as limited time frame for the Senate to act, etc., etc., etc..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Sounds great to me" - Every thug in the state

Convention is brought by the States, there is one rumbling around right now and we might see some movement on it through the next year.

While I do agree that the 1st and 4th are big deals there is the 5th and 6th are damn big deals too not to mention the 2nd. Trials that take months and years to conduct? This is asinine fucking bullshit! If we cannot resolve someone’s legal trouble within a week or two then they need to walk free.

You can be arrested for fucking breathing air and lose your lively hood on that fact alone. It needs to be addressed almost before everything else. People must be free to dissent and give government officials and law enforcement all the damn lip they want!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Sounds great to me" - Every thug in the state


Funny how when it’s a citizen accused (accused, not convicted), we must release their name immediately so the public can be properly informed.

But a police officer? Nope. It somehow makes them less safe, or is part of an ongoing investigation.

Bullshit at its finest!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "Sounds great to me" - Every thug in the state

My son was “Accused” of planning something “bad” at school, the court case was based on the lies of 2 mean girls and his life was ruined (doesn’t matter that it was all lies and accusations).

Headlines in the next day’s paper (2 days before Columbine anniversary), expelled from high school, thrown in jail on $50k bond (in court the same day, the guy who was being arrested for actually beating the crap out of someone with a baseball bat was arrested on $5k bail)

Cops should receive the same treatment if they ACTUALLY do something to someone.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

"When the public doesn't know who the 'bad apples' are, it's pretty easy for them to hate the whole barrel."

This isn’t a failure of the apples, but a failure of the barrel.

The institution isn’t covering for the good apples. No police officer worthy of the job will benefit from this new law.

This is purely allowing for law enforcement agencies to further bully the people. This demonstrates the barrel itself is bad and is spoiling the apples.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "When the public doesn't know who the 'bad apples' are, it's pretty easy for them to hate the whole barrel."

To quote a couple recent argument used by some US politicians to reject the acceptance of ANY Syrian refugees into the US.

– If you have a 5 pound bag of peanuts and 10 peanuts in the bag are deadly poisonous, would you feed them to your kids? –


– If a bowl of skittles had 3 poisonous ones in it would you eat from it? –

When it comes to accepting refugees this is an argument that should entice people to reject them all but somehow the same argument keeps being made a bout the police whit totally different expectations. That we should totally accept all of them no questions asked even though there is overwhelming evidence that we have more than a few bad apples causing actual deaths rather than the metaphorical ones implied by the politicians arguments for rejecting refugees…

Anonymous Coward says:

This problem has already been solved...

The response by a police department that was actually interested in transparency would be:

Here is a constantly updated list of the names of all officers that can be legally released to the public right now. Oh, a name that was here last week disappeared? Well we are legally barred from confirming or denying any such thing…

But let’s be real, no police department is actually interested in transparency, so this certainly won’t be happening.

ryuugami says:

Re: This problem has already been solved...

Heh, a Glomar canary.

Officer A has not shot anyone in the last week.
Officer B has not shot anyone in the last week.
Officer C has not shot anyone in the last week.
We can neither confirm nor deny if officer D has shot anyone in the last week.
Officer E has not shot anyone in the last week…

Personanongrata says:

Let them Eat Cake

Pennsylvania Legislature Looking To Hide The Names Of Cops Who Deploy Excessive Or Deadly Force

What next for the Pennsylvania Legislature? Hiding the names of the authors and co-sponsors of totalitarian pieces of legislation that seek to keep Pennsylvanians in an ignorant state of affairs and thus unable to hold their public servants accountable?

The government operates with public monies and therefore is accountable to all persons in all matters of public concern.

If the government cannot operate in an accountable manner to the public it should be forced to derive it’s operating revenue from the proceeds of a bake sale. Those persons that wish to support an unaccountable opaque government can attend the governments bake sale those not supporting tyranny can abstain.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Let them Eat Cake

What next for the Pennsylvania Legislature? Hiding the names of the authors and co-sponsors of totalitarian pieces of legislation that seek to keep Pennsylvanians in an ignorant state of affairs and thus unable to hold their public servants accountable?

Absolutely! Politicians can’t possibly work under the stress of having to deal with the peons/public learning that they might have voted differently than what said peon wanted, therefore it makes perfect sense to keep voting records secret to avoid harassment or worse from befalling politicians who’s actions might be misunderstood by the public they are dedicated to serving, whether the public realizes it or not!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...