After weeks of bipartisan support, a bill aimed at preventing “problem officers” fired from police departments from seeking new jobs elsewhere was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday.
The measure — introduced by State Rep. Harry A. Readshaw, a Pittsburgh-area Democrat — requires police departments to keep detailed records of why an officer left their employ, feeding them to a confidential database. That would include reports on disciplinary actions, performance evaluations, and attendance records, and require departments to disclose information about any active investigations into current or former officers.
This database, under the new law, must be consulted by law enforcement agencies whenever they receive an application from a prospective officer. And though the database will not be publicly available, any agency that chooses to hire an officer despite prior discipline is required to write a publicly available report explaining its rationale.
Wolf was a vocal supporter of the bill, a rare example of collaboration between both parties on police reform. The legislation was also endorsed by State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and a coalition, as he put it, of police leaders, including Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, and the Fraternal Order of Police, both locally at Lodge 5 and through the statewide chapter in Mechanicsburg.
Shapiro said Tuesday that the group met in his Harrisburg office in October to discuss reform. And that a common refrain, from all parties, was the concern over keeping “bad officers” out of communities.
“I think this is a down payment on progress,” he said. “There’s a lot more to do, and it’s my hope to keep working with this coalition I’ve built and get more things done.”
The president of the statewide Fraternal Order of Police lodge, Les Neri, said Tuesday that the law is particularly useful for smaller departments in more remote parts of Pennsylvania that may not have the resources for lengthy background checks.
“Nobody wants bad cops on the street, most importantly the officers that may be standing beside these individuals,” Neri said. “We’re willing to do whatever we have to do to make our profession better, and safer, not just for our officers, but for the public.”
John McNesby, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Philadelphia chapter, said he was proud to work “on both sides of the aisle to bring this important reform package” to Wolf.
“Today’s bill-signing is a solid first step toward transparency and reform in Pennsylvania,” McNesby said. “Law enforcement, lawmakers, and community residents must continue this important work to bring transparency to policing and criminal justice reform.”
The law signed Tuesday is part of a larger package of police reforms that gained traction in the weeks following the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.
A similar bill calling for the creation of a statewide misconduct database was introduced in 2018, after a police officer shot and killed Antwon Rose II, an unarmed black teenager, in a small borough outside Pittsburgh. But that legislation, among others, languished in committees without a hearing.