HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania House of Representatives today passed legislation to hide the identity of police officers who seriously injure or kill people. A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Wolf in November and is opposed by civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which has described the legislation as “the police secrecy bill.”
“Let’s be very clear about what this legislation does: This bill hides police who kill,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The criminal justice system is already heavily weighted in favor of the police. This bill throws a cloak of secrecy over them at times when communities need information the most, after someone has been killed or seriously injured.”
Introduced by Representative Martina White of Philadelphia, House Bill 27 institutes a 30-day gag order on any public official from identifying a police officer who has discharged his firearm or used force to kill or seriously injure someone. A violation of the blackout period is a second-degree misdemeanor. Only district attorneys and the state attorney general are exempt.
An additional provision of the bill prohibits releasing an officer’s name if “the release of the information can reasonably be expected to create a risk of harm to the person or property” of the officer or his family.
“The reality here is that this public gag order will go on indefinitely,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The state House has made clear how they feel about the movement for Black lives and others calling for transparency in policing. They don’t want to hear it.”
The legislation defies a recent trend in policing. Police departments increasingly release details about officer-involved shootings as soon as is reasonably possible, including in Philadelphia, where the police department typically identifies an officer who shoots someone within 72 hours of the incident. The Philadelphia policy was implemented after a 2015 report from the Department of Justice that recommended sweeping reforms of the police department.
Other police departments that release information swiftly after an officer-involved shooting include Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
“By passing this bill, the state House endorsed the idea of going backwards in policing,” Randol said. “A functioning democracy doesn’t hide public employees who seriously injure or kill someone.
“The responsibility of a police officer is to serve the people of our communities. Hiding them after they commit harm to others doesn’t serve anyone.”
House Bill 27 now heads to the state Senate for its consideration.