Pa. Dems want more police oversight in wake of Antwon Rose shooting
State Democratic leaders proposed a statewide oversight board that would provide certification to all law enforcement officers and, among other things, be responsible for “disciplining bad actors,” according to a package of bills they introduced Thursday.
Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa Jr., flanked by local Democratic Reps. Jake Wheatley, Ed Gainey and Austin Davis, presented the bill at the Allegheny County Courthouse as part of sweeping legislation drawn up in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Antwon Rose II.
“Recent events have shown that we are at a crossroads in how we manage and interact with our police officers,” Costa said. “We need to do more to improve the training, quality and support of officers.”
The legislation focuses on three categories: police administration and management, community relations and event response.
Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans, said the party will wait to see what legislation is introduced and review it.
The package so far includes seven bills, including the reintroduction of a bill from the 2015-16 legislative session that would require that a special prosecutor be appointed to cases involving deadly force by police. The prosecutor would be appointed by the Attorney General’s Office.
The event response pieces of legislation propose creating specialized units to respond to crisis situations, including officer-involved shootings. The units would provide immediate access to mental health services for both the officer and community members, according to the proposed legislation. It would also create a statewide database that would log an officer’s disciplinary actions, misconduct and complaints in an effort to make the hiring process more transparent.
It would also appoint a special prosecutor in police shooting cases, Costa said.
Bills relating to police management would make changes to training given by the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission to include cultural awareness and have a statewide standard for use of force and psychological counseling for officers who might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“After talking to several cops, we realized there are some cops that have never grown up around African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Koreans, and they don’t know anything about us,” Gainey said. “And it’s difficult to protect what you don’t know.”
The team would give assistance in resolving disagreements that stem from conflicts between communities and their police, as well as respond to police shootings to work with the communities and the officers and the feelings and conflicts that come from the shooting.
One piece of the community relations bills would focus on changing the standard for using deadly force.
“We have to discuss use of force,” Gainey said. “There’s no reason anybody should have to run and get shot in the back and be unarmed. We know this policy has to change.”
The proposed oversight board would be in charge of preparing and administering certification exams, which would focus not only on knowledge of law and criminal procedures but also de-escalation techniques and community safety. The board would investigate complaints and dole out discipline, which could including suspending and revoking certifications.
Other bills would target police diversity recruitment, improve police pay and a regional policing incentive program and study. Some proposals were purposefully short on specifics, Costa said, to make sure that law enforcement would have a chance at input.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.