Harrisburg – The state Senate today held the second of two days of public hearings on ensuring accountability and equality in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
Held Wednesday and Thursday, the hearings featured input from nearly 40 testifiers, including prosecutors, activists, police, academics and others. The joint hearings were held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), and the Senate Law and Justice Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Stefano (R-32).
“As law enforcement reacts to lessen the divide between officers and the community they serve, it is essential to discuss the processes, procedures and training they currently utilize,” Senator Stefano said. “The fundamental question to this conversation then is: How do we implement laws, policies and procedures that root out the bad actors without changing the behavior of reputable law enforcement officers?”
“We have had opposing groups in the same room offering informed perspectives on deep-rooted problems and a range of recommendations for reform,” Senator Baker said. “At the same time, legislators from both parties, coming from different backgrounds, are acknowledging that the status quo is unacceptable.”
On Thursday, the panel heard from members of the Pennsylvania State Police, including the Deputy Commissioner of Administration and Professional Responsibility, Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission, the Bureau of Training and Education’s Use of Force Unit, and the Equality and Inclusion Office.
Also testifying were members of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, FOP State Lodge, and the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, along with defense attorneys, legal scholars and juvenile law professionals.
Topics discussed included police training, use of body cameras, and disciplining bad officers, as well as the experience of black Pennsylvanians in the criminal justice system, including juvenile justice.
Senators Baker and Stefano said the aim is to develop and quickly pass meaningful, responsible legislation.
“Just as we know the overwhelming majority of people protesting are doing so peacefully, we also know the vast majority of our law enforcement officers are good men and women of conscience,” Stefano said. “However, Pennsylvania needs a constructive conversation about finding a balance between law enforcement and community relations.”
“There seems to be a consensus building around several initial reforms. Nevertheless, it will take more than one or two bills to address all the problems and needs in our communities, as expressed by citizens, community activists, local officials, and law enforcement and public safety professionals,” Baker said.
Wednesday’s public hearing featured Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, district attorneys, the NAACP, ACLU and other activists.
Next month, the committees will hold a hearing at SCI Laurel Highlands focused on corrections, probation and parole and other aspects of the criminal justice system.
You can find hearing video and written testimony from today’s hearing here.