Bill to restrict identifying officers in shootings moves to Senate

David Weissman

A bill that would restrict releasing the identity of law-enforcement officers who discharge their firearm while on duty is moving on to the full Senate after passing through committee this week.

A mobile forensics unit arrives on scene as officials investigate 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

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.

It already passed the House, 157-39, in March and could be brought up for a full vote in the Senate as soon as Wednesday.

The bill is nearly identical to House Bill 1538, also introduced by White, which passed last session 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."

J.J. Abbott, a spokesman in Wolf's office, said in March that the governor's opposition remained unchanged, but Abbott could not be reached this week to affirm that position.

Wolf's opposition is why Sen. Richard Alloway, R-York, Adams, Cumberland and Franklin counties, voted against the measure during the Senate Law and Justice Committee vote this week.

Alloway, who voted in favor of the bill last year, said he's generally in favor of the bill, but he said he wanted to work with Wolf to make small changes that would prevent another veto.

"It's a balance between protecting police officers and protecting the public's right to know," Alloway said. "Whenever you have a situation like that, reasonable minds can differ. I don't think the governor is far off from what the maker of the bill wants."

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.

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 she feels it strikes a good balance between the public's right to know and the need to protect officers.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.