HARRISBURG - Several police departments statewide are supporting House Bill 1538, which would prevent the naming of officers who use force on civilians unless they are charged with a crime.
“Officers are hesitating on the job,” state Rep. Martina White, (R) – Philadelphia and the bill’s sponsor, said. “They're nervous to keep our communities safe in some ways when they have to use force."
The bill comes as a response to a policy from Philadelphia police to name officers involved in shootings or use of force cases, and could bring change statewide.
“When you release the name of an officer, it's not only an issue for his safety, but for his family and other members of the police organization that they work for, so in keeping these names private, it enhances safety,” Chief Patrick O’Rourke of the Derry Township police department said. “The place to fight charges is in the courtroom, not on the streets.”
Here locally, where the case of Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle shooting a man is fresh in the minds of lots of people, there is hesitation and opposition to the measure from several advocacy groups.
“This bill diminishes transparency,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The implication here is that police officers who use force have something to hide."
But law enforcement agencies say a bill like this has protections for suspects.
“What does that do for the defendant in the case?” O’Rourke said. “What does that do for their chances of getting a fair trial? There's a presumption of innocence and I think it impedes the ability of the defendant to get a fair trial.”
“Everybody wants everything right now and I understand that, but I think the lives of our officers are certainly important,” White said.
The bill has passed the full House and is awaiting assignment in the Senate in the coming weeks.