Yesterday the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed House Bill 27. This Bill puts a 30-day gag order on public officials preventing them from identifying any police officer who discharges his firearm or uses force to kill or seriously injure someone.
If there is a breach of the gag order within the stated period a second-degree misdemeanor charge will be filed against the violator; only district attorneys and the state attorney general are exempted. This legislation directly contradicts recent policing trends across the U.S. – notably in Philadelphia, where the police department routinely identifies any officer who commits an offense within 72 hours of the incident.
An additional provision of the bill prohibits releasing an officer’s name if “the release of the information can reasonably be expected to create a risk of harm to the person or property” of the officer or his family. “Let’s be very clear about what this legislation does: This bill hides police who kill,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “The criminal justice system is already heavily weighted in favor of the police. This bill throws a cloak of secrecy over them at times when communities need information the most, after someone has been killed or seriously injured.”
Late last year Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a similar bill, coined “the police secrecy bill,” which was opposed by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and other civil rights organizations. “The reality here is that this public gag order will go on indefinitely,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The state House has made clear how they feel about the movement for black lives and others calling for transparency in policing. They don’t want to hear it.”
House Bill 27's next stop for consideration is the state Senate.