Pennsylvania Enacts Law Requiring Mandatory Police Officer Background Disclosures
Pennsylvania Act 57 of 2020 (enacted July 14, 2020) is a game changer in terms of what a Township Police Department must make public and disclose to prospective Police Employers concerning a former or present Township Police Officer. It is long, long overdue and should be welcome by all Townships, Police Officers and Police Unions. It makes all the sense in the world that before a Police Officer is hired, given lifetime tenure, a gun and the power to take life and liberty that the Township and Police Department know everything they can about the officer including all past discipline.
The law now requires the Municipal Police Officer Education and Training Commission (“Commission”) to develop a database to hold separation records of all “law enforcement officers” in the Commonwealth (defined as “peace officers” in Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 501). The act requires the database to be operational by July 14, 2021 and temporary regulations that were established on March 14, 2021 [Pennsylvania Bulletin (pacodeandbulletin.gov)].
All too often Township Police Departments in their zeal to get rid of a bad officer, for expediency purposes, will agree to expunge an officer’s disciplinary record or let him/her resign in good standing before disciplinary charges are filed, agreeing to not disclose that discipline when the officer applies to another Police Department. The new Department, however, has no idea it is getting a “bad apple”. It is a vicious cycle that if not broken harms all Township Police Departments and the public they are entrusted to protect. While a Police Chief is thrilled to be rid of a problem officer, the Department could fall victim if the next officer hired had his/her prior disciplinary record cleansed as well.
Everyone should have empathy and consideration for others who could end up with the problem officers if proper disclosures are not made. This new law finally attempts to address this very serious issue brought about by the recent national publicity about problem officers and the desire for more public transparency and accountability. We expect that more states if they have not already, will adopt similar legislation in the wake of public backlash against problem police officers.
Under this law the Township must proactively maintain and make certain employment records available on the Township website for the public and other Prospective Employer Police Departments to view. Further, it provides a process whereby a prospective employer can go to court if the prior employer stonewalls on providing documents, a process that did not exist before.
Municipal employers should consult experienced employment counsel for any assistance needed in complying with the new requirements.
Any questions please contact, Gabriel V. Celii at Offit/Kurman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT GABE CELII
Mr. Celii devotes his practice to representing businesses and municipal entities navigating labor and employment disputes ranging from wage and hour litigation and workplace discrimination defense to labor negotiations and the resolution of grievances. During his representation of Philadelphia-area Townships and Counties, he has successfully defended claims brought against public officials and advised municipalities on the drafting of local ordinances, such as Police Pension DROP amendments.
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