Bill to keep police IDs private is axed

State Rep. Martina White (R-170th dist.) vowed to reintroduce legislation that would delay police departments from releasing the names of officers involved in a discharge of their firearms or other use of force while an investigation is ongoing.

House Bill 1538 was vetoed last week by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“I wish the governor had recognized the importance of protecting police officers and their families,” White said. “In these politically charged times, an officer’s identity should be withheld for at least 30 days in order to allow facts to come to light as to whether the officer should be charged with an offense or cleared, and any threats against the officers or their families have dissipated.”

The bill was supported by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 and the state FOP. It was opposed by the ACLU, the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

“While I am deeply concerned for the safety of the commonwealth’s police officers, government works best when trust and openness exist between citizens and their government, and as such, I cannot sign into law a policy that will enshrine the withholding of information in the public interest,” Wolf said. “These situations in particular — when law enforcement uses deadly force — demand utmost transparency, otherwise a harmful mistrust will grow between police officers and the communities they protect and serve. Further, I cannot allow local police department policies to be superseded and transparency to be criminalized, as local departments are best equipped to decide what information is appropriate to release to the public.”

The Senate passed the bill on Oct. 26 by a vote of 39–9. Sen. John Sabatina Jr. voted for it, while Sen. Tina Tartaglione did not vote.

The House passed the bill on Oct. 27 by a vote of 151–32. Rep. Jason Dawkins voted against it. Reps. Dwight Evans and Mark Cohen did not vote. White and Reps. Tom Murt, Kevin Boyle, Mike Driscoll, Ed Neilson and John Taylor voted for it.

“Shootings are increasingly political,” White said. “That places the lives of our officers and the lives of their family members in danger. While we need transparency whenever police are involved in a shooting, we owe our officers basic protection from threats. That’s why I will re-introduce the legislation in the 2017–18 session.”

The legislature will not meet again until January, meaning it could not override Wolf’s veto this session.

Kenney and Ross issued the following joint statement in support of Wolf’s decision to veto the bill:

“We support the governor’s decision to veto this legislation. It is not Harrisburg’s role to run Philadelphia’s police department. The city’s policy of releasing names within 72 hours unless the officer or their family are in danger was adapted to improve community relations in accordance with a directive from the White House. There is no evidenced-based reason to go backwards.” ••