The governor of Arizona is poised to rule on a bill that would mandate keeping police officers’ names secret for a prolonged period after shootings in which someone is killed. The sensitive piece of legislation is being seen as a test case for other states.
Doug Ducey, a Republican who has been in office for less than three months, has until the end of Monday to sign or veto a controversial bill that has passed the Republican-controlled state legislature.
The law would enable police departments across the state to delay the disclosure of the identity of a police officer for 60 days after someone has been killed by the “use of deadly force” by that officer, unless he or she is to be charged with a crime.
The proposal is popular with lawmakers and rank-and-file officers, who argue it will protect police and their families from death threats and vilification after someone is killed, by allowing a vital “cooling off period” for the public.
However, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police has sent a letter to Ducey urging him to veto the bill, arguing that it would cause problems if officers’ identities emerged via social media and chiefs’ hands were then tied about discussing their own officers.
Chiefs currently have wide discretion about how soon they release officers’ names and work records and what measures they take to protect police and their families after incidents such as fatal shootings.
Civil liberties groups are concerned about transparency and also say that if Arizona enacts the law, other states will follow suit or even rule on longer periods of secrecy.
“We have a sneaking suspicion that this is a test bill and if it is approved the idea will spread to other places; that’s our fear,” Steve Kilar, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) branch in Phoenix, told the Guardian.
During debate in the legislature in Arizona, there was a push to withhold police officers’ names for 90 days rather than 60. Both chambers voted for the bill and sent it to Ducey, whose decision will send a strong signal of the tone of his young governorship, which follows that of the right-leaning firebrand Jan Brewer.
Arizona public records law currently requires departments to release an officer’s name after a death “as soon as possible”.
State senator John Kavanagh, a Republican, said a cooling-off period would increase safety for law enforcement and lower the risk of misidentification. Opponents believe that keeping names a secret increases the risk of misidentification, especially via social media.