State Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, has introduced a bill that would throw a dark blanket over public accountability for police officers.
Her bill would forbid the release to the public of names of police officers involved in shootings or use of force unless criminal charges are filed against the officers.
Rep. White referenced recent high-profile cases in which police officers have been targeted by criminals to bolster her argument.
Her proposal seems well-intentioned. The vast majority of police officers do an honorable and dangerous job to protect and serve citizens. It’s upsetting to think they could be targeted by angry citizens or mobs if they’re involved in a line-of-duty shooting or some other use of force.
So, why not withhold their names unless they are criminally charged?
Because police act on citizens’ behalf, they wield considerable power and authority, and there must be accountability.
It would be naïve to believe that all officers who inappropriately use force are held accountable by the criminal justice system. Such prosecutions are quite rare — locally and across the state and nation.
Obviously, there are many righteous police uses of force. But there are enough that are questionable (some of which we’ve seen locally, caught on video) that Rep. White’s proposed law would degrade public accountability overall.
Police unions, predictably, favor the bill.
But a recent PA Independent piece included statistics showing that, despite the recent highly publicized cases, police are actually much less likely to be killed or assaulted than they were in 1980.
This is a well-intentioned but bad idea, and York County’s lawmakers should reject this legislation.