Why the Police Secrecy Bill Matters
If the Police Secrecy Bill passes, then whenever a police officer comes under investigation for use of force, the officer’s name will be withheld from the public. It will become a crime for any public official to release the name within 30 days of the incident.
There are limits, but they are not good enough. First, the name can be released if the officer consents. Let’s not hold our breath for that.
Second, the gag order expires after the end of the investigation, or after thirty days, whichever comes first – except that no information may be released “during any period in which the release of information can reasonably be expected to create a risk of harm” to the law enforcement officer.
We believe this exception will be abused. Who will decide what is “reasonably expected”? The same legal system that failed to even prosecute the man who shot and paralyzed Leon Ford, or the murderers of Brandon Tate-Brown and Tamir Rice.
Police feel threatened by current public scrutiny of their use of force. Tragically, some police officers have been killed – but those attacks were random, not targeted revenge on particular officers. Not a single attack would have been prevented by withholding the officers’ names. The Police Secrecy Bill is trying to solve a problem that does not exist.
In fact, withholding officers’ names will create more problems. It will further damage the community’s trust in the police that serve them. Light is the best disinfectant, and secrecy has never been an ally of public justice.
Philadelphia’s police department already has a policy to release names of officers who use force within 72 hours. The Police Secrecy Bill would take away the department’s power to set their own policy, and hand it to the state. It would sabotage local efforts to improve transparency.
Here’s why this is urgent:
The Police Secrecy Bill already passed the state legislature last session, as House Bill 1538. We partnered with the ACLU to campaign against the bill, and Governor Wolf vetoed it on November 21, 2016!
But Rep White plans to reintroduce the bill, and if the same scenario plays out this session, the House may try to overrule the Governor’s veto. They have a veto-busting majority in favor of this bill: it passed 151 to 32.
Governor Wolf just bought us time. We must convince 30 representatives to change their “yes” vote to a “no” vote. The legislative session began on Jan 23. The bill may be reintroduced to the PA House any time between now and November of 2018.
What You Can Do
Call your representative’s office today.
Use the map linked below to look up:
- Your Representative’s name
- Their party affiliation
- How they voted on HB 1538 in 2015 and 2016*
- Whether they co-sponsored HB 1538
- The link to their contact info
LINK TO MAP OF REPS
Alternatively, look up your representative here, and then check how they voted on HB 1538 using this spreadsheet.
* Note: The PA House voted on HB 1538 twice. They voted to pass it in 2015, and sent it to the PA Senate. The Senate amended the bill slightly, so the House voted in 2016 to approve the amended version. Some reps changed their votes. The colors show each rep’s 2016 vote, unless the rep was on leave in 2016, in which case it is their 2015 vote.
* An “LVE” vote means the rep was on leave during the vote. “not yet elected” means the representative was elected in November 2016, after the vote on HB 1538.
Here’s what you can say:
Ask for your representative, but it’s possible you’ll be talking to a staffer. Begin with:
Hello, my name is _____, and I’m a registered voter in Representative <Name>’s district.
If you are registered with the same party as your rep (e.g. you’re both registered Democrats), you can add the following:
I’m also a registered <Democrat/Republican>, like Representative <Name>, and I vote in primaries.
I’m calling about the “Police Secrecy Bill”, which was House Bill 1538 last session. As you know, Governor Wolf vetoed the bill, but Representative Martina White plans to reintroduce it to the House this session.
Then, your script depends on how your representative voted. Four options:
1. If they voted for the bill:
I see that Representative <Name> voted for HB 1538. I’m asking him/her to change to a “no” vote when the bill is reintroduced. The Police Secrecy Bill would undermine the public trust in policing, and it won’t do anything to keep police safe. Please ask Representative <Name> to vote “no” to stop this dangerous bill.
2. If they changed from a “no” to a “yes” vote:
I see that Representative <Name> voted “no” on HB 1538 when it was originally presented to the House, but after the Senate amended it, changed to vote “yes”. The Senate amendment added an important limitation to HB 1538, allowing names to be released 30 days after a use of force.
However, there’s a huge loophole: information can’t be released if it “can reasonably be expected to create a risk of harm”. This loophole will be abused, because the people who decide what’s a “reasonable expectation” are the same people who are failing to hold officers accountable for their use of force. Please ask Representative <Name> to vote “no” again when the Police Secrecy Bill is reintroduced.
3. If they voted against the bill (or changed from a “yes” to a “no” vote”):
I appreciate that Representative <name> voted “no.” Please ask him/her to continue to oppose the bill. This bill will undermine the trust between communities and the police. Information should not be withheld from the community after force is used against someone.
4. If your representative was elected after HB 1538 passed, so they have never voted on it:
I know that Representative <Name> took office after HB 1538 originally passed. He/she will get to vote on the Police Secrecy Bill when it is reintroduced in this legislative session, and I’m asking him/her to vote “no”. The Police Secrecy Bill would undermine the public trust in policing, and it won’t do anything to keep police safe. Representative <Name>’s vote is vital to stopping this dangerous bill.
If your representative co-sponsored HB 1538, you can also add:
I also see that Representative <Name> was a sponsor of HB 1538. When the Police Secrecy Bill is reintroduced, I ask that Representative <Name> withhold his/her sponsorship.
As a concerned citizen, I’ll be paying attention to how Representative <Name> votes on this, and will keep it in mind next time I am in the ballot box.
Want to convince another rep to change from a “yes” to a “no” vote? Find a friend who lives in a district where a rep voted “yes”, and ask your friend to call their rep. The call matters most when it comes from a voter in that representative’s district. Share this Call to Action, especially with friends who live in other districts.
Pennsylvania deserves a police force that upholds our rights, and that can be held accountable when it goes wrong. You can do your part today.
[UPDATE: The original version of this call to action had some process details wrong. We thought that the legislature would simply try to overrule Gov Wolf’s veto on the original version of the bill, HB 1538. In fact, the bill will be reintroduced as a new piece of legislation. As a result, the bill number will change (it won’t be #1538 any more) and the text of the bill may change also. The bill will have to go through all the normal steps for creating legislation. The text of this call to action has been updated to reflect this. Thank you to Andy Hoover from the ACLU of PA for pointing out this error!]