House bill threatens police force

All right-thinking people harbor respect for police and the important, indispensable job that they do.

In the course of conducting their duties, they risk their well-being and their lives on others’ behalf.

That phrase “to protect and serve” isn’t fluff. It’s the foundation responsibility of their job.

But a bill before the Pennsylvania General Assembly regarding releasing the identity of a law enforcement officer involved in “use of force” resulting in serious injury or death, if enacted into law, would be adverse to everything that’s good about responsible police work.

It would be counterproductive and injurious to the image of police and police work, and erode public confidence in how these law enforcement professionals are performing their duties.

That’s unacceptable from the public’s point of view. Likewise, it should be unacceptable from lawmakers’ point of view.

It’s important that people of this state remind lawmakers of the right decision regarding the measure in question, House Bill 27: emphatic rejection.

But, unfortunately, the legislation is moving toward a third House consideration and could move soon to the Senate for consideration.

It should not be allowed to get that far — at least not in its current form.

It’s important to note that “Bill 27” is very similar to last legislative session’s House Bill 1538, which, commendably, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed.

If this session’s version gets to the governor’s desk, he should wield his veto stamp again.

HB27 stipulates that, unless criminal charges against an officer are filed, the identity of police officers in serious “use of force” incidents could be released if the officer consents, 30 days have passed or after completion of an official investigation.

Even then, the decision on whether the name ever were released publicly would be completely within the discretion of the police department.

The Pennsylvania Newspaper Association is correct that, in practical terms, the proposal could shield from public access the identity of officers involved in virtually all use-of-force incidents that result in serious injury or death in which an officer isn’t charged with wrongdoing.

“The names of police officers whose actions cause injury to citizens must be presumptively public, with appropriate protection when there are personal security concerns,” the PNA observed correctly.

Instead of the legislation saying that an officer’s name “may” be released after 30 days, the presumption should be that the name “shall” be released, unless there is an acceptable reason for withholding it.

Meanwhile, an automatic 30-day delay is arbitrary and, in most cases, unnecessary. According to the PNA — and from the Mirror’s perspective — if a “blackout” period is necessary at all, it should be shortened to three days.

The problem with an automatic 30-day delay is the potential to interfere with police departments’ ability to respond to tense situations unfolding rapidly in their communities.

Some incidents and circumstances call for prompt information about an officer involved in a shooting.

Some Huntingdon County residents might feel they should by now know the identity of the state police trooper or troopers who shot dead the alleged killer of a Blair County trooper on Dec. 31.

Police departments across the country are moving toward more transparency as a means to calm their communities and assure community members that the criminal justice system is working, or will work, fairly and appropriately.

HB27 is contrary to all of that and should be resoundingly rejected.

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