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Gov. Tom Wolf will appoint misconduct watchdog to oversee state police

Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA
More than 1,000 participate in the York Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest in York City, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. It would be the second day of larger scale protests in the city following the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died in police custody on May 25. Dawn J. Sagert photo

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf will appoint a watchdog and create a commission to investigate alleged misconduct by the the Pennsylvania State Police and other law enforcement agencies under his purview, he announced Thursday.

But additional reform — including changing how officers can use deadly force, improving access to body-camera footage and strengthening oversight for the hundreds of municipal departments statewide — will need approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The executive action comes in response to calls by legislative Democrats to adopt reforms in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“Today, I’m taking steps to address concerns about longstanding violence and oppression against Pennsylvanians of color,” Wolf said Thursday at a news conference.

The head of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association said in a statement that Wolf’s Thursday announcement made it seem as if its members “are no better than those charged with Mr. Floyd’s death.”

Earlier this week, members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and local Philadelphia lawmakers proposed dozens of changes to how law enforcement is trained, disciplined and overseen.

“The knee on George Floyd is emblematic of the knee on the neck of many black and brown people across the system,” Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said Tuesday. “Far too often we want them to come to the table and sit and hear false promises and not get the justice and the equity that they deserve.”

The proposed measures are similar to those introduced after a police officer outside Pittsburgh shot and killed Antwon Rose II, an unarmed teen, in 2018.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, for example, has introduced legislation to create a disciplinary database and require additional training and mental-health screenings for officers. But a version of the measure has been sitting in committee without a hearing since March 2019.

"I applaud the governor for taking this matter seriously and calling for action to address many of the concerns we have raised with respect to accountability and training,” Costa said Thursday. “I hope my colleagues in the majority heed this call and take action on these legislative and policy matters that are before the General Assembly.”

House Democrats on Thursday released a statement calling on the Republicans who control the chamber to take up these bills.

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