Pa. House committee advances two police reform bills

Action comes one week after Black Caucus members led protest on House floor

  • Ed Mahon

Ed Mahon / PA Post

The House Judiciary Committee meets on June 15, 2020.

One week after Black Democratic lawmakers protested on the House floor,  temporarily preventing the regular session from beginning, a Republican-led House committee unanimously passed two police reform bills.

The legislation, which passed out of the House Judiciary Committee Monday morning, would create a database of complaints against officers that law enforcement agencies would have to search before hiring new officers and mandate that officers who use deadly force receive a mental health evaluation within 30 days.

Despite the passage, the committee did not take any action on other proposals, including one to require that a special prosecutor investigate police use of deadly force, and another that would place new limits on when officers can use deadly force.

“It’s a great first start,” said state Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-Philadelphia). “And we say first start because there’s a lot of work that needs to happen.”

The full House is expected to vote on the measures next week when lawmakers return for a voting session, said Mike Straub, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.

House Bill 1910 would require mandatory training for police officers to address child abuse. Before passing out of committee Monday, lawmakers amended it to also add training requirements for interaction with people of “diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds.” It was also amended to add training requirements for the use of force; the training would include instruction on appropriate use of deadly force and de-escalation tactics, as well as training on how officers can discern and set aside implicit bias.

Another amendment requires police officers to undergo a mental health evaluation within 30 days of using lethal force while on duty. If a mental health professional determines that the officer has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, the officer would be placed on administrative duty until a physician determines that the officer can resume full duties.

House Bill 1841 would require an employer to disclose employment information to a law enforcement agency that is conducting a background investigation of an applicant.

Before passing out of committee, it was also amended to require the creation of an electronic database containing police officers’ separation records. All law enforcement agencies in the state would have access to the database when they hire an officer. The records must include documentation of all criminal charges filed against a law enforcement officer, all civil or ethical complaints made against a law enforcement officer, and final disciplinary actions taken as a result of those complaints.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

The steps outside the state Capitol on June 15, 2020.

Several law enforcement groups have endorsed the creation of such a database.

“We have long supported a statewide registry so our department can ensure it only hires people who are worthy of being a state trooper, and look forward to being part of this effort,” David Kennedy,  president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, wrote in a recent letter published in The Morning Call.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, announced that a group of law enforcement and union leaders supported the database. That includes Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and John McNesby, president of the labor union for Philadelphia police officers and sheriffs.

In the original proposal from state Rep. Christopher Rabb (D-Philadelphia) the attorney general’s office would manage that database. But Rabb said the legislation was changed to require the state’s Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission to manage the database.

“It was a back and forth to find common ground,” said Rabb.

» PA Post is an independent newsroom covering policy and government in Pennsylvania. For more, go to www.papost.org.

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