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Democratic Legislators To Release Police-Reform Legislation

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
Democratic State Sen. Jay Costa discussed a forthcoming legislative package to address police-community relations, alongside (from left) state Reps. Jake Wheately, Ed Gainey, and Austin Davis. State Rep. Dan Miller was also present.

Local Democratic state lawmakers announced Thursday they’ll soon introduce a raft of reforms to improve police-community relations and enhance management at local departments. 

The lawmakers started working on the legislation after East Pittsburgh officer Michael Rosfeld shot and killed seventeen-year-old Antwon Rose in June.

The proposals cover a range of issues - from hiring to training and oversight. During a press conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse, state Rep. Ed Gainey highlighted police use of force as an important issue.

“There’s no reason that anybody should have to run and get shot in the back and be unarmed,” the Democratic representing Homewood said, alluding to the circumstances of Rose’s death. “We know that this policy has to change. And we know there has to be procedures in place to make that happen.”

State Sen. Jay Costa (D - Forest Hills) is set to introduce a bill that would require the state’s Municipal Police Officers’ Education & Training Commission to develop a new use-of-force policy. The commission would then direct municipal forces that don’t have their own standards to adopt the policy.

East Pittsburgh itself apparently lacks such policies, a situation which has raised flags for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and others. 

Costa also plans to propose legislation that would establish a “law enforcement oversight board.” In addition to creating a certification process for police officers, the board would have the power to investigate complaints and to take disciplinary action against officers. That effort echoes a grassroots campaign to create such a board to oversee departments in Allegheny County. 

A separate bill, sponsored by state Sen. Sharif Street (D - Philadelphia) would create a statewide database to track allegations of misconduct against individual officers. Departments would consult the database before hiring new officers. 

If a department were to hire an officer with an allegation in the database, the bill would require the municipality to release a public notice of the hiring. Officials would also have to explain the reasoning for the hiring, and make that document available via a right-to-know request.

Rosfeld, the East Pittsburgh police officer charged in Rose's death, previously worked for the University of Pittsburgh, where questions about his conduct have surfaced along with a lawsuit

Costa estimated the final legislative package will include six to eight bills.

Legislators said that in drafting the legislation, they’ve consulted with police chiefs, police union representatives, and others in law enforcement. They said they hoped their proposals will become law by the end of the year, though the legislature is controlled by Republicans.