Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Allowed Agencies To Withhold Names Of Officers Who Deploy Deadly Force

from the legislators-forced-to-lower-middle-fingers-previously-extended-to-public dept

Last month, Pennsylvania legislators wrapped up a little gift for the state’s law enforcement agencies: a bill that would have allowed agencies to withhold the names of officers involved in deployments of deadly force for at least 30 days. This was just the mandatory withholding window. The bill never stipulated a release date past that point, meaning “never” was also an acceptable time frame.

The normal concerns for “officer safety” were given as the reason for the new opacity. Rather than see disclosure as an essential part of maintaining healthy relationships with the communities they served, law enforcement agencies saw disclosure as just another way to hurt already very well-protected officers.

The DOJ itself — often a defender of entrenched police culture — recommended a 72-hour window for release of this information. State legislators, pushed by local police unions, felt constituents would be better served by being kept in the dark. Given the back-and-forth nature of public sentiment, it was unclear how Governor Tom Wolf would react to the passed proposal.

Fortunately, Governor Wolf has seen the bill for what it is: something that further distances police officers from the people they serve. In a letter [PDF] announcing his veto of the bill, Wolf points out the law would have done far more harm than good. (via PINAC)

Government works best when trust and openness exist between citizens and their government. I cannot agree to sign this bill, because it will enshrine into law a policy to withhold important information from the public.

The legislation as drafted would prevent the disclosure of a police officer’s name in a situation where an officer takes the life of an unarmed person. These situations in particular — when law enforcement uses deadly force — demand utmost transparency, otherwise a harmful mistrust will grow between police officers and the communities they protect and serve. Transparency and accountability are required of all public employees, but this bill ignores the reality that a police officer is a public employee.

Wolf also points out that law enforcement agencies aren’t being served by this bill either. The bill would make it illegal to release officers’ names before thirty days have elapsed, even if individual agencies feel an earlier release would defuse tensions and/or protect uninvolved officers from being subjected to unfocused criticism or abuse.

The proponents of the bill have little concern for community relationships nor the well being of uninvolved officers. All they want to do is add more opacity to law enforcement and erect a stronger shield over some of the government’s most problematic employees. Fortunately, the state’s governor saw the damage the bill would create and refused to become part of the problem.

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Comments on “Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Allowed Agencies To Withhold Names Of Officers Who Deploy Deadly Force”

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warwick says:

Hide Cops' Identity

… a tiny, temporary victory for justice & equality– but cops generally still enjoy many special privileges/treatments that put them above the law across the nation.

Of course, powerful police unions are the source.

Another example is that many states permit cops to conceal their names on public property/home-ownership records … which are normally public local government real estate records… open for all to see. Ordinary citizens are denied this option. Intent is to hide cops’ home addresses.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hide Cops' Identity

Have a look at the qualified immunity they get, and it’s not just the cops either. There was a story a while ago about california cops, politicians and their family members being issued special license plates which gives them immunity from speeding and parking tickets. No wonder they consider themselves special and deserving of entitlements, freebies and much much more.

Tony Loro (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hide Cops' Identity

What sites are you reading or getting mail from? Oh I found a Fox story.
No one gets immunity. What is the case is the names and addresses are withheld.
A speeding stop results in a ticket. A violation results in a ticket. What is happening is some, we don’t know how many but even the Fox piece admits most are law-abiding do not get the notices or are not traced down. This is mostly for toll and parking. No body blows speeding which can result in a warrant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hide Cops' Identity

Another example is that many states permit cops to conceal their names on public property/home-ownership records

Which states? I know that in Texas this is not the case. Anyone can request their personal information be redacted on tax records by simply filing a request with the clerk of the court for your county. In some forces, this paperwork is part of the personnel package every year, along with things like the authorization for union dues deduction and insurance elections. Many never even realize what they are signing. I know many cops that were "what’s up with that" when their records weren’t available on line and they needed a copy of them and couldn’t get it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Of course

I mean what could possibly go wrong with the idea of ‘One or more of the cops patrolling the streets, that you might interact with, has killed someone recently, but we’re not telling you which‘?

How could something like that possibly damage the relationship and trust between the police and the public, holding forth the idea that a cop killing someone isn’t something the public needs to worry it’s little head over.

I get that US police by and large see the public as it’s enemy, and seem hellbent on turning that stance into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but you’d think that they’d at least be smart enough not to attempt to actively sabotage public relations this blatantly, to the point where the governor had to save them from themselves.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Of course

Not really, no. One of the bigger problems(beyond seeing and treating the public as the enemy) they face is that they seem to have transitioned from working to earn respect(which is hard /s) to demanding it, and getting increasingly angry when that doesn’t work.

Like thugs and bullies throughout history they seem to have missed the idea that you can compel compliance through fear only to an extent before the backlash hits, and yet they still continue on as though they just need to cow the public that little bit more for people to get back in line and do what they’re told.

thejynxed (profile) says:

Wolf is going to have problems getting re-elected

1) He imposed a variable 6%-20% “Netflix and Amazon Tax” (Nevermind that we already pay state sales taxes on this stuff, this is on top of that).

2) He’s blocked any sort of public union and pension reform, let alone sensible reform given the state budget (and related shortfalls) for the next twenty-five odd years (and given the giant number of Boomers and their eldest children getting ready to retire).

3) Still no excise tax on natural resource extraction, the only state in the entire USA without one.

4) While his intentions in this case are admirable (and he isn’t wrong about the broad/vague language), he needed to state that this bill should have had that language adjusted and be sent back to his desk for signing. PA is unfortunately one of the leaders when it comes to the production and distribution of methamphetamine (and by leader, we are talking on the size of Mexico’s meth production leader) and this bill was ostensibly to address undercover and tactical officers terminating the life/lives of individuals inside of meth labs while not having their names revealed to other criminal suspects in the case not present at the lab. We’ve had more than one case where they’ve terminated the lives of individuals inside of mobile meth labs who refused to pull over/stop for law enforcement.

5) He’s at constant loggerheads with the GOP majority in the state legislature over every petty thing.

6) He’s been treated for cancer while holding office, and while this shouldn’t affect his chances, the fact of the matter is voters will doubt his health and ability to continue serving another term.

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