Police Secrecy Bill: Dangerously Misguided

Once again the Pennsylvania House has passed a bill to hide the names of police officers responsible for killings or serious injuries from public view.

House Bill 27, passed on March 20, would impede basic transparency and damage the trust between communities and the hard-working officers who serve them. It has been accurately called the police secrecy bill by the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Far from creating a “cooling-off” period, it would anger people in the communities where such incidents most frequently take place. That anger would be justified.

Furthermore it is a solution in search of a problem. Cases of attempted retribution against officers involved in such incidents are rare-to-nonexistent. This is a protection that police officers do not need and that would only increase mistrust and resentment. It would undermine police-community relations, hinder criminal investigations, and interfere with local police decision-making.

I agree with State Rep. Jordan Harris, chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, who says that it would “further erode the trust between citizens, specifically people of color, and our police forces.”

Both former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and current Commissioner Richard Ross support the right of communities to have this information. I join them, along with the ACLU, in wholeheartedly supporting the public's right to know.

Governor Tom Wolf correctly vetoed a very similar bill just five months ago. Its reintroduction is nothing more than political pandering to the least enlightened elements in the FOP (whose authoritarian leadership endorsed authoritarian presidential candidate Donald Trump, also an enemy of transparency). The FOP leadership has predictably endorsed the bill.  As usual, there is no good reason to think the FOP leadership’s position reflects the views of its more enlightened membership. I challenge all candidates for District Attorney to reject this bill immediately and in writing. Let’s see who does.

Even if passed, this bill would not restrict D.A.s’ offices from releasing information that the public has a right to know. As Philadelphia’s District Attorney, I would exercise my discretion to release it. The law must apply equally to all. Laws that reduce police accountability have no place in a just society.