The Pennsylvania House approved a bill Tuesday that would prevent officials from identifying police officers while they are being investigated for firing their weapons or using force.
Lawmakers voted 162-38 for a proposal that also mandates release of the officer’s name if he or she is charged with a crime. If the investigation does not produce charges, the names can be released if doing so would not be expected to create a risk of harm to them or their families.
“This is not about protecting our police officers from bad publicity, it’s about protecting their lives and their family,” said the sponsor, Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia. “In today’s atmosphere and instant communication methods, we need to abundantly be cautious so as not to jeopardize our law enforcement.”
Opponents said the bill did not directly address a number of issues, including what would happen when someone violates the ban, and warned its secrecy could foster distrust between police and the people they serve.
“To mandate a veil of secrecy when an officer discharges a firearm or uses force? No, that would be a step in the wrong direction that would further damage the relationship between the general public and law enforcement,” said Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon. He also argued that withholding names would expose all officers on a force to public suspicion and that the bill would remove discretion currently enjoyed on a department-by-department basis.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, said she failed in efforts to amend the bill to add a 60-day period after which the officers could be named.
She said the “risk of harm” wasn’t defined and wondered if it could apply to reputational or economic risks.
Rep. Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, said that within hours of his participation in a shootout as a Pittsburgh police officer, his life and family were threatened.
“We’re making way too much of this,” he said. “Does anyone in here have a bullet in the base of their brain? I do, from the line of duty.”
Police officers have “the power of life and death” and so should be subject to a high level of scrutiny, said Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia.
The bill was sent to the state Senate for its consideration.