HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Calls for change and transparency in policing have led to protests nationwide and in the Midstate — with rally cries calling for a spotlight on excessive force, bias, and racism.
“These are issues that we take very seriously,” Lt. Col. Christopher Paris said.
Paris is the Deputy Commissioner of Administration and Professional Responsibility for the Pennsylvania State Police. “The unrest just means that there are problems that have to be addressed,” he said.
The complaints against police across the country are prompting change.
“As leadership within the industry, we just have to embrace change,” Commissioner Osborne Robinson III said.
Osborne became commisioner of the York City Police Department in January of this year.
“Traditionally when it comes to being transparent, the transparency was predicated internally. It was based on the police department’s perception of what being transparent is, but as a sign of the times and hearing the voices of the community it is important to note that those that we serve are saying that we are not transparent and so now we are at a place where we have to evaluate our policies,” Osborne said.
Pennsylvania State Police has an Internal Affairs Division which handles police complaints.
“We task them with the critical mission of taking in complaints, investigating complaints, and compiling full, fair, competent, and thorough investigations — and that is critical for us to police our own and to hold our people accountable,” Paris said.
State police take complaints in person, over the phone and online.
More minor complaints, like late traffic reports or rudeness, can be handled at the supervisor level. More serious complaints, like excessive force, can result in an internal affairs investigation. The Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards keeps track of the data and issues an annual report.
“If you are not keeping track of the numbers then you have no idea in terms of the greater operational picture of what is going on,” Paris said.
The Bureau of Harrisburg Police currently uses a database to track formal complaints, but it does not put out an annual report.
York City Police did not have the technology to generate data or an annual report regarding complaints, but that is changing. The police department is in the process of installing a new software system.
“The use of force, internal affairs, and the complaint process are our top priority. We want to get those implemented first so we have a one-stop-shop so to speak for gathering that information and being able to create reports based on that information,” Cpt. Matt Leitzel said.
“Those types of statistics, as well, provide information for early warning. So that we can identify issues in terms of maybe a policy as well as a practice for a particular officer or group of officers that may not be consistent with the ideals of where we want to go as an agency and how we want to be perceived,” Osborne said.
Osborne also changed how complaints are handled. All complaints, big or small, must now be put in writing and cross his desk.
“I made the change because I wasn’t satisfied. When you don’t have an opportunity to see all the complaints you also don’t have an opportunity to address issues,” Osborne said.
Today, Governor Tom Wolf signed two police reform bills into law, HB 1841 AND HB 1910. It allows the creation of a database that would document disciplinary action taken against officers. The database can be used if officers apply for a new job.
The database will be maintained by the Municipal Police Officers’ Training and Education Training Commission (MPOTEC), which contains separation records of law enforcement officers.
Some debate the public should have access to the information in the database as well..
“In terms of public notification or accessibility, that is a very complicated issue. Certainly, at the base minimum, we would want the database to serve its purpose by if a police officer had discipline, that should preclude him or her from obtaining employment at a different agency. We certainly want police agencies to have access to that,” Paris said.