Police Reform

HARRISBURG – June 10, 2020 – Today, members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus announced plans for a comprehensive package of legislation to reform policing in Pennsylvania.

Two years ago, members of the caucus introduced police and community relations reform bills in the wake of Antwon Rose’s death, but those bills did not move. George Floyd’s murder, caught on tape, has awakened national attention and brought to light systemic racism in our criminal justice institutions.

In the past year, 1,042 people have been shot and killed by police and the rate of black Americans killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for white Americans

“We have to end racism that permeates our culture, and we have to reform our system of policing,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “For the past two years, I have been trying to reform this system, but my legislation stalled. We cannot let that happen again. The Pennsylvania Senate Democrats have expanded our package of bills to include critical reforms and we must pass them this session.”

The bills to be introduced by the Senate Democratic Caucus will:

  • Improve Municipal Police Officer Education and Training
  • Institute “8 Can’t Wait” to ban deadly police practices
  • Appoint a special prosecutor for cases of officer involved shootings
  • Require civilian review boards and provide grants and technical assistance to improve their performance
  • Ban chokeholds
  • Improve police pay
  • Improve standards for the use of deadly force
  • Demilitarize law enforcement
  • Fund a regional policing incentive program and study
  • Ban consent while in custody
  • Create a professional oversight and policy development board for police officers
  • Enhance civil asset forfeiture protections
  • Penalize false reports of “criminal activity” based on race or ethnicity

Details on each of those proposals are included here.

The Senate is expected to review several police reform measures in its Judiciary and Law & Justice Committees in hearings and voting meetings during the month of June.

The Senate Democratic caucus has taken a clear, hard stand against hate and racism in a joint statement that is backed up by their policy proposals announced today.

Like many of you, we in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus are struggling with the death of George Floyd and working to understand what equity is and how it is understood by different people. The events in Minneapolis unfortunately represent a pattern of violent incidents resulting from the fundamental misunderstanding of what equity means: from the lynching of Emmett Till to the beating of Rodney King to the shooting of Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. All were victims of an unjust and unequal society that fails to see the humanity of every person regardless of their race or ethnicity.

As a nation, we will never be able to deliver equity or justice to a family or a community if we do not understand their lived experience. Feeling the same moral outrage after witnessing multiple similar events over the last few years, many of us joined you in the streets for peaceful protests and calls to action. Unfortunately, many of us have also witnessed these peaceful and Constitutional gatherings turn dark, as the messages of peace and unity were supplanted by people seeking to wreak havoc and sow discord. We have condemned the theft and vandalism while protecting our own homes and communities.

No one who believes in the equity of human beings can justify what happened to George Floyd, nor can they justify the disproportionate response with which many peaceful protests were met over the past several days. Nor can anyone who has examined the state of our union over the last several years disagree that racial inequity has been allowed to fester and grow throughout the country. From law enforcement to education to health care, institutions of government cannot be allowed to willfully close their eyes to the plight of others. We know racism, prejudice and bigotry have no place in public policy, and must act like it. This moment of tragedy has given us yet another opportunity to dismantle and replace mechanisms that perpetually lead to negative outcomes for so many. PA Senate Democrats continue to aggressively pursue legislative change to bring equity in the face of injustice. Our humanity will lift us out if this moment of profound pain, and we can move toward a future where everyone is treated with the dignity they deserve.

Please find additional information, updated regularly, at pasenate.com/reform.