THE PENNSYLVANIA Legislature passed a bill last week that would forbid release of the names of police officers involved in shootings for 30 days after the incident occurred.
The bill is now on Tom Wolf's desk awaiting action. The governor should veto it.
It would create a bad law and a bad precedent, and would result in bad policing - at a time when there is a recognized need to improve how police interact with the communities they patrol.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Martina White, a freshman Republican who represents Northeast Philadelphia, at the behest of the Fraternal Order of Police. According to city data, nearly half of the 6,000 uniformed officers in the department live in the 11 ZIP codes that cover that section of the city.
It might have been good politics for White to push the bill, but it is bad policy. The FOP says it wants the bill to become law because it is afraid officers involved in shootings could become victims of retaliatory violence.
We can understand why a police officer involved in a shooting incident would like to keep his or her name under wraps. In the same way, we understand why firefighters may be reluctant to enter a burning building or PGW crews wary of working in areas where there is a confirmed gas leak.
But these workers are public employees, and these actions are undertaken as part of their job. It comes with the turf. And accountability and transparency are what the public expects and what it deserves.
White's bill not only imposes a 30-day gag order; it also calls for prosecution of those who violate the ban, thereby criminalizing what should be routine release of public information.
The bill, if it becomes law, also would overturn the department's current policy, which is to release the names of those involved in police shooting incidents within 72 hours unless there is a credible threat to the family of the victim or to the officer involved.
That policy was recommended by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Former Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey chaired that task force, set up after shootings and riots involving reaction to the cases involving civilians shot by police.
For the record, Mayor Kenney opposes the White bill because, as spokeswoman Lauren Hitt put it, "He does not want Harrisburg to run our police force."
The core of the Task Force's recommendations dealt with improving police/community relations, which it said had become badly frayed. There was a widespread lack of trust in the police, which, in turn, made it more difficult for them to perform their duty to preserve and protect.
The White bill takes a giant step backward from those goals. Putting the cloak of secrecy around these incidents could lead people to assume the fix was in. That the police would move to protect their own, rather than follow where the facts lead them.
In turn, that could increase community anger and distrust. How will that help the situation?
The President's Task Force report is filled with specific recommendations on how to improve policing, but the heart of the report is a call for law-enforcement officials to face the problems with policing and not retreat or run away from them.