Police ID protection bill moves unanimously through first committee
Newly minted State Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) has made a splash with her first piece of legislation that proposes to the identities of police officers involved in shootings.
The bill, which would bar police departments statewide from releasing the names of officers under investigation for discharging their weapons, passed the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday with a 25-0 vote.
Police watchdogs and transparency advocates say that the bill would allow police departments to further hide malfeasance.
The nonpartisan Police Advisory Committee just recently got on equal footing with the Philadelphia Police Department by changing the way the city investigates officer-involved shootings.
A few months prior, PPD Commissioner Charles Ramsey agreed to release the names of such officers within three days of a shooting, pending that their lives aren’t at risk.
Ramsey does not support White's bill. He has concerns about what it means for departmental transparency, which has been one of the defining fights of his tenure in Philadelphia. White responded by putting forward an amendment in Tuesday's committee hearing that specifies two things. First, any officer charged with a crime will have his or her name immediately released. Secondly, if an officer is not charged with a crime and there is no public threat to the officer's safety, the officer's name will be released following the police department's internal investigation.
"The officer's name will not be held in perpetuity," said Dave Foster, the press spokesperson for Rep. White.
Who determines the public threat to an officer? Foster says the onus will be on local police commissioners and their executive staff.
White, whose legislation was backed by both the state FOP and FOP Lodge 5 in Philly, says her bill aims to protect families more than anything. If an officer is under investigation for a shooting and the public learns where he lives, now the family of the officer has to deal with the limelight — not to mention the potential harassment that could follow.
“We need to balance transparency with some basic protections for our law enforcement officers. This is one way to help protect them from unnecessary threats and allow the facts to come out so the good cops aren’t tried by the public and the bad ones are tried by the courts,” Rep. White said in a statement.
The legislation now moves to the house for a vote. If the bill isn’t stalled to receive a public hearing, it could move smoothly to the senate for a vote, then to the governor’s office to final passage.
Other organizations are already questioning whether such a bill should sail quickly through the legislature, or be slowed in its tracks for further scrutiny.