The end goal, the lawmakers said, is to avert the kind of fatal interaction between police officers and such young, unarmed black youth and men as Antwon Rose II, of East Pittsburgh, and David Jones, of Philadelphia, who were both shot and killed in separate incidents, sparking protests and public outcries in their hometowns.
“We had little hope for justice for an unarmed black man who was shot in the back,” said Rep. Summer Lee, an Allegheny County Democrat, whose district neighbors the community where Rose, 17, was shot and killed as he fled former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld. In March, a jury in Harrisburg found Rosfeld not guilty of charges of criminal homicide in connection with Rose’s death.
“The community has been demanding answers,” Lee continued. “The cry that ‘black lives matter’ will no longer go unanswered.”
The bills, some of which have been introduced in previous legislative sessions, or have yet to garner the standard memos seeking co-sponsors, would:
- Clarify when police officers are empowered to use deadly force and under what circumstances the use of deadly force could be employed.
- Require the state Attorney General’s Office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate any incident of deadly force by a law enforcement.
- Reform the arbitration process in disciplinary matters involving the police.
- Strengthen the certification and decertification process for police officers and establish a statewide standard for training law enforcement officers.
- Reform hiring practices for police officers to provide greater transparency by including any civil, criminal, or ethical complaints filed against an officer in his or her personnel record and to fully explain why an officer might have left a previous job.
A 2018 analysis of FBI data by the online news publication Vox found that U.S. police kill black people at greater rates than white people. In 2012, black people made up 31 percent of police killing victims, even though they comprised just 13 percent of the country’s total population, Vox reported. The online news site acknowledged that its data was incomplete “because [it was] based on voluntary reports from police agencies around the country.” Even so, the data “[highlighted] the vast disparities in how police use force,” Vox reported.
Cutting down — or even eliminating the disparate use of force — is the main goal of a use-of-force
The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, which represents state police troopers, said it was “not prepared” to comment on the proposals.
Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadephia, who sponsored the special prosecutor bill in last year’s legislative session and is sponsoring it again this year, said his plan was critical to making sure that officers accused in shootings did not benefit from any favoritism from home turf prosecutors.
“We don’t do justice to justice by pretending she is blind. She’s not,” Sims said, adding that “the data” points to racial and ethnic disparities in the dispensation of justice. “We don’t say it enough.”
Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday that they’re hoping their proposals, as they emerge more fully, will garner broad bipartisan support and land on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk before the end of the current two-year session.
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