October 27, 2016
Legislation that would protect the identities of Pennsylvania police officers when they fire weapons is on its way to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf.
The General Assembly on Thursday passed House Bill 1538, which also protects the identities of officers who use force that results in death or serious bodily harm.
Under the proposal, law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from identifying such officers until an investigation into the incident is completed, or until 30 days have passed. If an investigation results in a criminal charge against the officer, his or her name must be released.
With the exception of an attorney general or local district attorney, anyone who violates the law could face a second-degree misdemeanor charge.
Wolf press secretary Jeffrey Sheridan said the governor is reviewing the bill. No decision has been made.
If signed by Wolf, the bill would overrule a policy adopted last year by the Philadelphia Police Department. Currently, any Philadelphia police officer who discharges a firearm in a police-involved shooting must be identified within 72 hours.
That policy was put in place following numerous protests over the police-involved killing of Brandon Tate-Brown, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Mayfair in December 2014. District Attorney Seth Williams cleared two police officers of any criminal charges in March 2015, but their names were not released until three months later.
The policy prompted backlash from the local Fraternal Order of Police and spurred state Rep. Martina White, a Republican from Northeast Philadelphia, to draft the legislation just approved by the General Assembly.
John McNesby, president of FOP Lodge No. 5, has supported the bill, saying it will protect officers and their families from "unnecessary threats." But the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill "diminishes transparency" and implies that police have something to hide.
The bill took more than a year to reach Wolf's desk, but it gained considerable support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. It passed the House last November. The Senate passed an amended version earlier this month. The House concurred on Thursday, sending it to Wolf.
The votes in both legislative chambers, each controlled by Republicans, drew the support of nearly every Republican and many Democrats.
The Senate passed the bill, 39-9. Ten Democrats supported the bill; only one Republican, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County, opposed it. The House passed the bill by a 151-32 vote. Only two Republicans opposed it while 43 Democrats supported it.