HARRISBURG – A Pennsylvania Senate committee today voted in favor of legislation to withhold key information from the public after police officers use force against people. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania criticized the measure as “the antithesis of transparency” in a statement after the committee vote.
“We entrust police officers with a great deal of power, including the use of force,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “That power must be coupled with transparency and accountability to the public.
“The members of this committee failed to recognize or acknowledge their responsibility to the public. They have passed a policy that will heighten tensions between the police and the communities they serve.”
Introduced by Representative Martina White of Philadelphia, House Bill 1538 would prohibit public officials from releasing the name of a police officer who uses force. In its original form, that public gag order would last until the end of an “official investigation.”
In its vote today, the Senate Law and Justice Committee amended the bill to limit that blackout period to 30 days. It also exempts district attorneys and the Attorney General from the ban.
Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, acknowledged the revision as an improvement but said the civil liberties group remains opposed to the bill.
“It may be a better bill than it was but it is still terrible law,” Hoover said. “A 30 day blackout is better than one that is indefinite. But the bill is still completely tone deaf to the needs of communities that are impacted by police brutality.”
The legislation now heads to the full Senate for its consideration.