'It was beyond help': Fire claims life of Fairview Township woman

Bill seeks to restrict identifying officers involved in shootings

David Weissman
  • HB 27 would restrict law enforcement from identifying officers involved in shootings.
  • Under the bill, which passed the House, the public release must wait 30 days or until investigation complete.
  • Gov. Wolf vetoed a similar bill last session because he said it would harm police-community trust.

A bill that would restrict releasing the identity of law enforcement officers who discharge their firearm while on duty passed the House last week.

House Bill 27, introduced by Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, states that the name and identifying information of a law-enforcement officer involved in such an incident shall not be released to the public until 30 days after the incident or until an investigation is complete, whichever comes first.

The bill is nearly identical to House Bill 1538, also introduced by White, which passed through the House and Senate before being vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf, who argued the bill would lead to a "harmful mistrust ... between police officers and the communities they protect and serve."

Wolf's opposition to the bill remains unchanged, according to press secretary J.J. Abbott.

Current law allows discretion on the part of local law-enforcement agencies on when, or whether, to release the names of officers involved in shootings or  use of force while on duty.

Philadelphia police currently have a policy to release the names of officers involved in shootings within 72 hours unless releasing that information would pose an immediate danger to the officer or his or her family.

From left, York City Police Det. Jeff Spence, Police Chief Wes Kahley and Lieutanant David Godfrey, of the York County Sheriff's Office are shown as officials investigate the scene of a shooting at 974 East Philadelphia Street in York City, Thursday, June 9, 2016. York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said that a Sheriff's deputy, who was serving a warrant at the address, was shot in the face by the suspect, who was then also shot.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

York shooting: York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber said every shooting is different, and law-enforcement agencies should always err on the side of safety when it comes to the officer involved.

Keuerleber, who supports the legislation, was faced with such a situation last year when one of his deputies was shot in the face and returned fire, fatally striking his attacker.

The identity of the deputy involved, Deputy Michael Lutz, was released shortly after the incident.

Keuerleber said his office made the decision because  the attacker was not involved in a gang and there was no threat of retaliation, so they chose to be transparent.

Opposition: The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania opposed the legislation because it could restrict police departments from exercising such transparency.

Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the ACLU, said law-enforcement agencies have trended toward disclosing information sooner to increase public trust, and this bill could override their efforts.

The ACLU's biggest concern is the language in the bill, which states that the officer's identity "may" be released to the public after 30 days or the investigation is complete, Randol said.

"It's too permissive and unclear," she said.

Support: The bill also allows for the release of the officer's identity at any time if he or she provides written consent.

Reps. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, and Dawn Keefer, R-Dillsburg, serve as co-sponsors for the legislation.

Phillips-Hill said she had spoken with spouses of several local law-enforcement officers who felt the restrictions were necessary to ensure the safety of their families.

"This bill is not designed to protect officers who act unlawfully," Phillips-Hill said, adding that she feels it strikes a good balance between the public's right to know and the need to protect officers.

The bill passed, 157-39, with Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, as the lone York County representative dissenting. She could not immediately be reached for comment.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.