Wolf signs 2 police reform bills requiring database of employment history, mental health checks

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Tom Wolf signed two bills into law on Tuesday that progress police reform in Pennsylvania — one of the first states to pass legislation in the aftermath of public outcry over racial injustice.

The bills — prompted in the wake of the death of Minneapolis Black man George Floyd by the knee of a white police officer — are the first two pieces of legislation from the governor’s comprehensive law enforcement reform plan, which was announced in June.

House bills 1841 and 1910, respectively, passed unanimously in the state House and Senate. 

The first bill, H.B. 1841, requires thorough background checks before officers are hired. Police departments must also disclose employment information. The Municipal Police Officers’ Training and Education Training Commission will maintain a database of employment history.

If a department hires someone with issues in their record, they must fill out a report indicating their rationale for hiring. Those issues include:

  • Excessive force
  • Harassment
  • Theft
  • Discrimination
  • Sexual abuse or misconduct
  • Domestic violence
  • Coercion of a false confession
  • Filing a false report
  • A judicial finding of dishonesty

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who joined KYW Newsradio’s Reporters’ Roundup Tuesday afternoon, said the database will prevent an officer from hiding wrongdoings in his or her past.

“All the misconduct that has accrued to that individual police officer will follow her or him. And when they try and go from one department to another, that'll create more accountability in the system, and that is going to make our communities feel and be more safe,” he said.

The second bill, H.B. 1910, requires mental health evaluations for law enforcement officers, with an emphasis on post-traumatic stress disorder. Evaluations can be requested by an officer or chief, or required within 30 days of an incident that involved lethal force.

The bill also requires officers to be trained in trauma-informed care, which includes:

  • Use of deadly force
  • De-escalation and harm reduction techniques
  • Community and cultural awareness
  • Implicit bias
  • Procedural justice and reconciliation techniques

Shapiro said the mental health bill is just the first step in that process. 

“More training, more diversity, more tolerance and understanding is critical for any law enforcement agency,” he added.

A ‘down payment’ toward progress

Shapiro reiterated that Pennsylvania is one of a small number of states to pass reform in the aftermath of Floyd’s killings and the subsequent protests.

“They righteously called for real improvements in a system that was in dire need of reform. And today, we delivered on that in what I've called a down payment on the progress we need to make,” Shapiro said. “There's a lot more we need to do.”

A good place to start: Shapiro said advocates need to work together for the “common good.”

“Let’s stop tweeting and talking and actually get around the table and make something happen,” he said. “This is one piece of many that we need to pass.”

More specifically, Shapiro said trust must be rebuilt between law enforcement officers and community members. He believes a step in that direction would be a ban on chokeholds in Pennsylvania. 

“It’s critically important that we listen to the voices in the community that are demanding change, and then bring about real measures that actually address that change that's needed,” he explained. “We're long past the time where I think politicians can just get away with talking about things. We need to deliver on concrete steps.”

Over the weekend, another cellphone video went viral, this time of an Allentown police officer kneeling on a man’s head or neck. Whether it be this man in Allentown, Floyd in Minneapolis, or countless others, Shapiro said these actions cannot be tolerated. 

“We can’t accept that as normalcy in policing, as normalcy in our communities,” he said, “and I think it’s important that we have measures in place — both through training and through legal changes — that address that.”


KYW Newsradio’s Ian Bush and Rachel Kurland contributed to this report.