Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a pair of police reforms bills into law on Tuesday, including background checks requiring officers seeking new positions to reveal previous employment records.
The bills were pushed by Pennsylvania’s legislature in response to nationwide protests that followed the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police on May 25.
“Let me say this very clearly: Black lives matter,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said before the bills were signed. “But saying it — that’s just not enough. We must listen and we must take action. And today … will be a down payment on the types of reforms we need to deliver on here in Pennsylvania.”
One law will require officers to turn over all previous employment records when applying for new roles in law enforcement. It will require police agencies to explain why officers with past offenses were hired and it mandates creation of a database where departments can document disciplinary actions.
The other law mandates mental health evaluations of officers and training on use of force, de-escalation and community and cultural justice.
Wolf, a Democrat, acknowledged that the laws are “still, still not enough to halt the systemic racism and oppression that still exists throughout our Commonwealth.”
“Systemic racism is a complex issue,” he said. “It has existed for centuries and, in so many ways, it’s ingrained in our society. And I’m not going to downplay the challenges that we all face in eradicating it, but we have to find a way to eradicate it. We need to end racism.”
Shapiro mentioned Antwon Rose II, 17, who was fatally shot in June 2018 by an East Pittsburgh Police officer the attorney general said had a long list of alleged misconduct.
Michelle Kenney, Rose’s mother, “believes that this bill will save lives in the future. She’s right,” Shapiro said of the measure creating a new database on disciplinary actions and complaints against officers.
“It’s through this action that we start to rebuild the trust that has been lost over decades with bad behavior and injustice,” Shapiro said.
A jury found former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld not guilty of criminal homicide in March 2019 in connection with the death of Rose, who was shot three times when he ran during a traffic stop. A witness captured the shooting on video that was posted on Facebook. Rose was not armed.
Rose’s family settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer and East Pittsburgh in November for $2 million.
“This I believe is just the beginning,” Shapiro said of the new police reform legislation.
In the weeks after the killing of Floyd in Minneapolis, officials across the nation introduced or passed sweeping, unprecedented reforms against the double scourge of police violence and racial injustice.