Wolf Vetoes Bill That Would Stall Naming of Cops Who Shoot Civilians
Gov. Tom Wolf has just vetoed a controversial bill that would have limited transparency at police departments across the state.
House Bill 1538, which was heavily criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, would prevent public officials from releasing the names of police officers who fatally shoot civilians for 30 days after the incident occurs or after an official investigation has ended.
Wolf issued a statement on his decision:
“While I am deeply concerned for the safety of the Commonwealth’s police officers, government works best when trust and openness exist between citizens and their government, and as such, I cannot sign into law a policy that will enshrine the withholding of information in the public interest. These situations in particular — when law enforcement uses deadly force — demand utmost transparency, otherwise a harmful mistrust will grow between police officers and the communities they protect and serve. Further, I cannot allow local police department policies to be superseded and transparency to be criminalized, as local departments are best equipped to decide what information is appropriate to release to the public.”
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) November 21, 2016
The House had approved the bill — 151 yeas to 32 nays — on October 27th, at a time when police shootings of unarmed minorities has spurred widespread concern and national dialogue. That’s a veto-proof majority, meaning legislators could choose to override Wolf’s decision and prompt the bill to become law. The state Senate passed the bill on October 26th, 39 to 9, also a veto-proof majority.
The ACLU had urged Wolf to veto the bill, calling it “a policy that will heighten tensions between the police and the communities they serve” and “completely tone-deaf to the needs of communities that are impacted by police brutality.” In October, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said the bill “does little to further our efforts to improve police and community relations.”
Both the Philadelphia and the state chapters of the national Fraternal Order of Police had supported the bill. Kelvyn Anderson, the executive director of the civilian-run Police Advisory Commission, told Philadelphia magazine that the bill’s easy passage through the state House and Senate is a testament to how much power police unions wield, despite pushback on the bill from activist organizations like Black Lives Matter and the ACLU.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Martina White, has made a strong push for its passage.
“This legislation is critical as we’ve seen shootings involving police officers become so politically charged that the officers’ lives and their families can be endangered even if the use of force was justified,” White said in a statement last month. “While we need transparency whenever police are involved in a shooting, we owe our officers basic protection from threats.”
White won reelection in Northwest Philadelphia on November 8th, beating out Democrat Matthew Darragh, who received an endorsement from President Barack Obama.
White also has sponsored a bill that would punish cities in Pennsylvania that enact formal and informal sanctuary city policies — Philadelphia being one of them. That bill has stalled.
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