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Governor signs two police reform bills into law in PA

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    HARRISBURG, PA (WPMT) — Governor Tom Wolf has signed two law enforcement bills that will implement more training, mental health evaluations, and expanded pre-employment background checks for officers by also establishing a police database system to assist departments in hiring.

“We have made progress in 6 weeks but we are far, far from the finish line,” said Governor Wolf.

Pennsylvania State Police and other lawmakers joined the Governor as he signed HB1841 and 1910 that were passed with bipartisan cooperation.

The framework for the police database will be established by the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission. Lt. Col. Christopher Paris of PA State Police and several lawmakers said the goal of the database is to keep ‘bad apples’ from being hired into police departments and from moving from one agency to the next.

“The statue promulgates that we have 6 months to get it up and running. We’re commissioning a nationwide search. We have a meeting next week with some individuals down in Maryland to look at best practices,” said Lt. Col. Paris.

Police departments will be required to check the database before they hire officers to look for so-called ‘red flags.’ Lawmakers said if the department decides to hire an officer with ‘red flags,’ they must fill out a hiring report.

“If the Chief of Police or municipality chooses to hire that person anyway they’re going to have to submit a hiring report. Now this is what’s important: in that hiring report they are going to have to explain why they ignored these red flags. That hiring report is accessible to the public via right to know,” said Rep. Christopher Rabb, (D) Philadelphia.

“We’re always part of the conversation to make things better,” added Lt. Col. Paris of Pennsylvania State Police, who said PA State Police supported the idea of the database long before the events in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd.

Other lawmakers called for more bills to be taken up in the future to further address use of force and chokeholds.

As for PA State Police, Lt. Col. Paris said the PA State Police have not taught chokeholds for decades. He said Troopers are only trained to defeat a chokehold that is used on them.

“On our use of force array the use of a chokehold would be at the same level of lethal force. So it would have to be a situation under the totality of the circumstances that would warrant lethal force,” said Paris.

Collectively, those in attendance noted Tuesday’s laws are a ‘first deposit’ on the issue of police reform.

“These clearly are steps in the right direction. And, we know there are critics out there saying we haven’t gone far enough,” said Sen. Jay Costa, (D) Allegheny County, who said the Senate Democratic Caucus plans to go on a statewide listening tour to hear more from communities on the issue.

“Black lives matter. I’ll say it again. Black lives matter,” said PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “But saying it, that’s just not enough.”

Sen. Sharif Street, (D) Philadelphia, added, “Let this be the last generation that has to speak about these issues.”

You can read the Governor’s full release below:

Calling them ‘new laws that make progress in keeping every Pennsylvanian safe,’ Governor Tom Wolf today signed House bills 1841 and 1910, which both passed unanimously in the House and Senate. The bills are the first two pieces of legislation from the governor’s comprehensive police reform executive actions announced in early June in the wake of the death of George Floyd when in Minneapolis police custody and subsequent protests in Pennsylvania and across the country.

“A little over a month ago I met with leaders of Black communities in Philadelphia and Harrisburg to discuss ways we can improve law enforcement to make our commonwealth safer for every Pennsylvanian,” Gov Wolf said. “Today, I am signing two bills that will take steps toward achieving this goal.”

Gov. Wolf was joined at the bill signing at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, members of the legislature and the Pennsylvania State Police, and Keir Bradford-Grey of the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

PCCD Executive Director Mike Pennington welcomed the governor and provided an overview of the commission’s role in police reform.

“As an agency, we answered the call the governor made last month to address reform,” Pennington said. “We’ve created a Racial and Ethnic Disparities Subcommittee under the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee here at PCCD. Keir Bradford-Grey of the Defender Association of Philadelphia will serve as our chair, and we look to have that subcommittee formed and convened within the next month or so.”

“I commend Governor Wolf and the General Assembly for establishing a mandatory, statewide database of police misconduct — a key change sought by reform advocates and a down payment on the improvements we still need to make. Today, Pennsylvania becomes one of the only states in the country to change its laws in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. I heard the community in October, and worked to bring a breakthrough coalition of law enforcement leaders forward to get this done,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “This legislation would make all Pennsylvanians safer by preventing departments from unknowingly hiring officers with past records of misconduct, and it shows we can make meaningful improvements in our criminal justice system. We won’t stop pushing for change until inappropriate police-community interactions, like what we saw that day in Minneapolis, are as rare as they are unacceptable.”

The governor signed at the event:

House Bill 1841, sponsored by Rep. Harry Readshaw, which requires a thorough background check for law enforcement applicants prior to being employed and requires a law enforcement agency to disclose employment information. The bill also establishes an electronic database housed and maintained by the Municipal Police Officers’ Training and Education Train Commission (MPOTEC) that contains separation records of law enforcement officers.

A hiring report that indicates the prospective law enforcement agency’s reason and rationale must be completed if a hiring law enforcement agency hires an individual whose separation record includes any of the following:

Excessive force
Sexual abuse or misconduct
Domestic violence
Coercion of a false confession
Filing a false report
A judicial finding of dishonesty

House Bill 1910, sponsored by Rep. Dan Williams, which requires mental health evaluations with a focus on PTSD of law enforcement officers as a condition of continued employment. The evaluation may be upon request of a law enforcement officer or a police chief or within 30 days of an incident of the use of lethal force.

The bill also requires training for police officers on trauma-informed care, use of deadly force, de-escalation and harm reduction techniques, community and cultural awareness, implicit bias, procedural justice and reconciliation techniques. Under the bill, magisterial district judges are required to complete, as part of their annual continuing education requirement, one course on the identification and reporting of suspected child abuse and court proceedings involving children.

“A resounding cry for justice for all citizens has risen up throughout our commonwealth and our nation,” Rep. Dan Williams said. “The General Assembly has responded to this impassioned demand to protect the vulnerable by passing these two police reform bills unanimously and the governor by signing them into law.

“I’m proud that my bill will enhance the training the police receive so they can better serve the public and expand the reporting system to protect children from child abuse. The swift passage of these bills and their enactment into law is a sign that police reform and child protection are not partisan issues.”

“Just 36 days after a handful of Black legislators commandeered the Speaker’s rostrum on the House floor, a handful of police accountability bills were enacted in the wake of mass protests statewide that have inspired urgent and substantive legislative action when justice has demanded these measures for far too long,” said Rep. Chris Rabb.

“I am so happy to have participated in the efforts that will lead to real reforms in policing throughout Pennsylvania,” Rep. Jason Dawkins said. “None of this would be possible without a coordinated group effort. I would like to thank my partners in the General Assembly, the Governor and everyone who has demanded change for helping to make that happen. There is more work to do and we are not backing down.”

“I am so proud to have been part of this bipartisan, bicameral process to bring legislation to the Governor’s desk,” Sen. Jay Costa said. “Every corner of this state and in every one of our districts, citizens have called for reform. We’ve heard them, and we’re still listening. These bills are a step in the right direction for better outcomes in our criminal justice system, but they are just the first step. Our work continues. By enacting comprehensive reforms, I believe we can prevent the next tragedy.”

“We are proud to advance legislation in a bipartisan effort that enacts essential reforms to policing in PA,” said Sen. Sharif Street. “The stressful nature of law enforcement mandates we assess and ensure the mental health and wellness of our men and women in uniform. Additionally, ensuring elevated standards of hiring for officers who have exhibited behavior egregious enough to amount to termination is an important measure in salvaging the integrity of law enforcement and restoring the public’s faith. This indeed would have saved the life of Antwon Rose who would have turned 19 years old on July 12. These are seminal policy initiatives that must be met with other comprehensive measures. We still have work to do.”

Gov. Wolf also signed into law today:

House Bill 2045, which authorizes the granting and conveyance of certain lands in Ohiopyle Borough, Fayette County in exchange for different lands in Ohiopyle Borough.

Senate Bill 352, which establishes the Tax Exemption and Mixed-Use Incentive Program Act. Specifically, the bill authorizes local taxing authorities to provide for tax abatement incentives for certain deteriorated industrial, commercial, business and residential properties.

Senate Bill 934, which amends the Human Services Code to require that all child care centers and family child care homes have an operable and properly maintained fire detection device or system within their facility that is regularly inspected and tested.

Also, today Gov. Wolf vetoed House Resolution 836, which called for an end to his disaster declaration for the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a legal dispute to the resolution’s passage, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sided with Gov. Wolf, calling the resolution “a legal nullity.”

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