PHILADELPHIA–Lawmakers in the Pennsylvania State House have passed a bill that would hide from the public names of police officers who fire their weapons or in alleged incidents of excessive “use of force.”
The bill would allow release of the names only if, after investigation, the officers are charged with criminal wrongdoing in the shooting. The measure, House Bill 1538, passed Nov. 17 and is now waiting Senate approval.
According to Philadelphia NAACP branch President Rodney Muhammad, the bill is the brainchild of State Representative Martina White with the blessings of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.
Defeating the bill is number one on the branch to do list and it is prepared to go to court to accomplish its goal.
“If this bill passes, the police department does not have to release the name of the officer after an internal investigation has taken place they don’t have to release the officer’s name after an external investigation has taken place. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you will not have to disclose this officer’s name. We are not happy with this piece of legislation at all,” Mr. Muhammad said. “The NAACP had a recent conference with the FOP as well as other legislators and other concerned groups. We voiced our displeasure and hoped to get a more modified version. It fell on deaf ears. As a result, the NAACP is gearing up to take the fight into the courts should the bill pass and in all likelihood it will.”
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, in a recent article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called the bill “ridiculous.” “I think it would set us back in terms of police accountability,” she said.
Rep. Martina White, a Republican from Philadelphia and the bill’s sponsor, said it was drafted partly in response to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey’s decision this summer to release the names of officers involved in shootings within 72 hours of the incidents. She is quoted in published reports as stating, “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,” Ms. White said.
At the time the bill was introduced, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby said the bill was designed to quell possible protests in the community where an incident occurred.
Denouncing the bill was Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We give our police officers a great deal of power, including the use of physical force, up to and including deadly force, it is crucial that transparency is coupled with that power. This bill diminishes transparency. The implication here is that police officers who use force have something to hide,” he said.
Change.org said, “This con-troversial piece of legislation encompasses everything that is bad governing. The legislation is supported by special interest 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 bipartisan 162-38 vote.”
“The legislation probably cannot be defeated but the NAACP will marshal its legal resources and will test the law’s constitutionality,” vowed NAACP leader Muhammad.