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Identity & Community

House OKs Plan To Shield Police Immediately After Use Of Gun, Force

The state House has passed a measure supporters say would provide more protection to police officers who use their gun or any act of force while on the job.  

The proposal, which passed by an overwhelming 162-38 vote, would bar the official release of the identity of police at least until after an “official investigation.”

Proponents say a skeptical public and the ease of sharing photos and messages online makes police more vulnerable. Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) said he supports shielding police for the duration of an investigation of their actions.

“No one here speaking supports a bill that’s going to harbor cops out there in some foreign land so that nothing can be addressed or dealt with,” said Vereb.

The measure would allow the release of an implicated officer’s identity after an investigation, of unlimited length. An officer’s name could be kept under wraps after an investigation if its release puts his or safety at risk. In the event that an officer is criminally charged, his or her identity would be necessarily released.

Rep. Dom Costa (D-Allegheny), a former Pittsburgh city police chief, said he’s feared for his safety after using his gun once on the job.

“I was involved in a deadly shootout, and the suspect was hit. Fortunately he did not die. That was at 2:30 in the morning. By 8:30 in the morning, my family was threatened, my life was threatened,” said Costa. “I was still doing paperwork and worrying about my family, and my kids going to school.”

But critics said police should strive for more transparency, not less. At least one House member voiced concerns that investigations could be dragged out, keeping police anonymous months after a violent incident.

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) faulted the bill with sloppy language.

“What I worry about,” said Dean, “is hurried legislation that has a very good intent, that is drafted in a way that is vague, and will create more problems -- unintended consequences -- than it solves.”

The measure now heads to the Senate, where a spokesperson for the Republican majority says it has not yet been discussed.

A spokesman for Governor Tom Wolf said it would be premature to take a position on the legislation.