In a story that seems to continue to repeat itself in cities and states across the nation, Pennsylvania voted to bar the public from learning the names of police officers involved in the shooting civilians for 30 days – after the department investigates their own and has come to a conclusion about the officer’s culpability. This decision comes just after the Pennsylvania legislature voted to bar public release body camera footage to members of the general public.
Unlike civilians, who are generally named immediately as the alleged shooter, police officers will get the right to remain anonymous, free from any form of public scrutiny.
When the founders made this nation, they always intended that the people would be able to hold their government accountable. Thomas Jefferson said in 1821, “When all government . . . shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided . . . and [it] will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.” Except in this case, those trying to centralize the power are those in our state houses and local councils.
This is a struggle over information and subsequent accountability. When governments hold a monopoly on information, the people are powerless to hold the government accountable for its actions. This is why authoritarian governments across the globe often try to hold a monopoly on news, restrict the internet, and nationalize nearly all forms of media.
Even former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey agrees that not releasing names is about controlling the public, not protecting police officers, saying in an interview with NPR:
“I don’t think you can shoot someone and expect to remain anonymous, and I do think that we have a responsibility as a police agency that work[s] for the people to provide that information, unless there are some extenuating circumstances.”
Philadelphia overturned the practice of protecting the names of officers, and forced the department to release names of police shooters within 3 days. The new Pennsylvania law will nullify it.
Once again the Pennsylvanian government is trying to make police a protected class of citizens, and once again, the public should not accept that statute.
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