HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday called for changes in police training and greater citizen involvement in oversight of police as part of a series of reforms inspired by the death of George Floyd, whose death prompted protests across the state and across the nation.
The governor also said he thinks the state needs “to revisit” the issue of whether police should be wearing body cameras and whether that footage should be available to the public.
“I think we need to be more transparent,” he said. “I am taking steps to address concerns about community relations with law enforcement as well as strengthen the accountability of our agencies.”
Wolf said he’s encouraged protesters to express themselves peacefully but said the state needs to demonstrate it’s taking action to address their concerns.
“Throughout the week I preached de-escalation,” he said. “The protests have done their job and called attention to the systematic injustice. We can no longer afford to have two Pennsylvanias or two Americas.”
Wolf outlined multiple actions directed at meaningful reforms, many based on the 21st Century Policing Task Force, created in 2015 under President Barack Obama in response to the Ferguson, Mo., death of black teen Michael Brown that set off weeks of protests.
Wolf’s proposals, and his decision to march in a protest on Wednesday in Harrisburg, prompted immediate pushback from the unions representing law enforcement in Pennsylvania.
“What happened to George Floyd was horrific and wrong. There isn’t a single state trooper who disagrees,” said David Kennedy, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. “But what Gov. Wolf is saying today is the Pennsylvania State Police, and all law enforcement in our commonwealth, are no better than those charged with Mr. Floyd’s death. This was clear when he ignored his own order and marched in Harrisburg this week during a pandemic with people holding signs that read, ‘Blue Lives Murder.’”
Wolf said when he joined the protest in Harrisburg, “there were a lot of signs,” and said he didn’t see the one mentioned by the troopers’ association. He said the call for greater oversight wasn’t intended to be a criticism of the state police.
Highlights of the recommendations include:
•Creation of a Deputy Inspector General within the Pennsylvania Office of State Inspector General (OSIG) focused on deterring, detecting, preventing and eradicating fraud, waste, misconduct and abuse amongst law enforcement agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction.
•Creation of a Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Advisory Commission that reviews allegations of misconduct by law enforcement personnel under the governor’s jurisdiction.
•Providing technical assistance to municipalities from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) to encourage the creation of local citizen advisory boards. Wolf told reporters he can’t force municipalities to create citizen oversight boards but he’d like to see every community in the state that has a police department create one.
•Reviewing Training and Education of Officers. All training academies for law enforcement must review current use of force training standards for law enforcement. Wolf said that the training should be updated to include de-escalation techniques and implicit bias training.
The governor also said he is calling for the creation of a Racial and Ethnic Disparities subcommittee with the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and he supports efforts to improve mental health service for police officers.
Minutes after his reform announcement, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced he thinks the state should pass legislation requiring records of misconduct be shared with other police agencies when an officer is trying to get a new job.
“These records would be filed in a registry maintained by an appropriate law enforcement entity. Before hiring an officer, law enforcement agencies would be required to search the database and review the records of any officer before making an offer of employment,” according to a statement fro Shapiro’s office, also endorsed by police groups, including the state Fraternal Order of Police.
“After listening to the community and law enforcement leaders, I saw there was common ground on this issue and worked to bring people together,” said Shapiro. “Millions are peacefully demanding change in our country and we need to show them we’re listening. This is a down payment on the kinds of reforms we need to deliver, and I’m calling on the General Assembly to pass legislation.”
Legislation to force police to share misconduct records with other departments prior to hiring decisions has been introduced in both the House and Senate.
Wolf said he is committed to working with members of Black Legislative Caucus to pass additional reform legislation.