In Pa.’s capital city, an effort to reimagine police protection takes shape | Friday Morning Coffee

July 10, 2020 7:07 am

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Harrisburg City Council might officially be on summer break, but in Pennsylvania’s capital city, the debate over police reform is alive and well, with two important pieces of reform legislation now pending before the legislative body.

They’re so important, in fact, that one council member plans to interrupt the panel’s summer break to hold public hearings on bills dealing with the city department’s use of force policy and another bill that would create a citizen review boardas our friends at ‘The Burg report.

Council will “continue the discussion for both [proposals] throughout our summer hiatus in a series of public meetings,” Council Public Safety Committee Chairperson Ausha Green said, according to The ‘Burg. “The dates will be confirmed and advertised in the near future.”

As the ‘Burg reports, interest around the proposed legislation is intense in a city where police sirens blare all too often. Green told the ‘Burg she’s received more than 40 comments on the proposals.

Harrisburg police chief Thomas Carter kneels in front of angry protesters on June 1, 2020, who riddled him with criticisms of a police conduct during a Black Lives Matter protest Saturday. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Not surprisingly, there’s particular interest regarding the citizens review board, which would guide policing policy and work to improve community relations. Some citizens want to see the 7-member advisory panel become more formalized, and granted subpoena power, the ‘Burg reported.

That authority would be far more broad than the one afforded through a request made through the state’s open records law, a group of 31 citizens wrote in a joint letter to council.

“The right-to-know request serves as a good tool for seeking information as community members,” the letter reads, according to The ‘Burg. “However, it doesn’t provide the full scope of documentation necessary to assess any wrongdoing within the police bureau. Administrative subpoena power is needed within the community review board, similar to the administrative subpoena power allowed through the tax board and zoning hearing board both of whom, as stated by [city solicitor] Mr. [Neil] Grover, hold administrative subpoena power to ensure that ethical procedures are followed.”

Gov. Tom Wolf marches at a Black Lives Matter protest in Harrisburg on June 3, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

The discussion in the Capital City is reflective, of course, of the conversation going on in the Capitol, where lawmakers sent Gov. Tom Wolf a brace of police reform bills, and where Wolf himself has said he plans to set up a citizens’ review board for all law enforcement personnel under his jurisdiction, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported last month.

By the end of June, 159 police reform proposals had been introduced in 16 statesNewsweek reported. The majority-Democrat U.S. House, with some Republican support, also passed its own police reform proposal. The bill is unlikely to get a vote in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Academic research on civilian review boards remains largely favorable, with one 2018 study concluding that “civilian oversight promises more equitable policing because it is a process by which non-police community members can regularly provide input into police department operations.”

And right now, “nearly 150 oversight boards or civilian–police oversight agencies operating in the United States are primarily associated with large municipal police agencies,” the study, by Olugbenga Ajilore and Shane Shireypublished in the Atlantic Economic Journal, concludes.

In Harrisburg, council member Green told The ‘Burg she’s looking forward to a productive conversation.

“I would also like to thank community organizations that have been holding public discussion to really continue the conversation in our community, such as the Young Professionals of Color,” Green said. “And I look forward to gaining more insight from residents as we continue this discussion.”

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Thursday was a campaign visit kind of day.
SEPA Correspondent Nick Field was with Vice President Mike Pence in Philadelphia, where the Veep talked up the police and jabbed at Joe Biden during a stop in a police union hall. NEPA Correspondent Patrick Abdalla has what you need to know about Biden’s event in suburban Scranton, where he set up some bright line contrasts on the economy.

Stephen Caruso dissects a state House vote frustrating Gov. Tom Wolf’s effort to enter the state into a regional greenhouse gas reduction compact — and how opponents let a veto-proof majority slip through their fingers.

Gov. Tom Wolf has extended a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, set to expire Friday, until Aug. 31, Caruso also reports.

Abortion rights advocates want to know why an anti-abortion group that receives state money revealed clients’ names in documents recently made public by an Office of Open Records ruling, Cassie Miller reports.

An Erie cop caught in a viral video kicking a seated protester won’t face criminal charges, your humble newsletter author writes.

Correspondent Michala Butler talks to Temple University students and faculty about what they’re expecting of a new president now that the incumbent, Richard M. Englert, has announced his retirement.

In class, or online, Pittsburgh parents will be able to choose how their kids go back to school, our partners at the Pittsburgh Current report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Scott L. Bohn, of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Associationmakes the case for reforming, not defunding, police departments. And occasional contributor Rory Fleming says Philly DA Larry Krasner’s planned Truth & Reconciliation Commission is a good idea — if he can get it right.

(Photo via Flickr Commons)

In a special report “Black and Blue,” the Inquirer looks at 190 years of police violence against Black Philadelphians.
new strain of coronavirus may not be as virulent, according to UPMC physicians. The Post-Gazette has the details.
PennLive goes up close, taking a look at school districts’ efforts to reopen before the start of the new school year.
The Morning Call has what renters need to know about their rights.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

(Instagram photo)

Former Veep Joe Biden paid a visit to his childhood home during his swing through Scranton on Thursday, the Citizens-Voice reports.
Face masks will be required inside all Pa. schools this fallWHYY-FM reports.
The Pence/Biden swings punch up Pennsylvania’s battleground status, the Pa. Post reports.
With its most recent term over, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has emerged as the court’s ‘fulcrum,’ Roll Call reports.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to longtime Friend O’The BlogCorinna Vescey Wilson, whom we inexcusably missed on Thursday. Entirely updated best wishes go out this morning to former Rendell administration official and St. Joe’s University poli.sci guy Joe Powers, and to our old friend, Amy Ney Gianficaro, of the National Philanthropic Trust, all of whom celebrate today. Congratulations all around, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a long-time favorite from The Go-Betweens to get your Friday morning rolling. It’s the lovely ‘Born to a Family.’

Friday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
Ugh … pity our poor Aston Villa. The Claret-and-Blues dropped a 3-0 decision to Manchester United on Thursday, further cementing their chance of being sent back to the Championship after their pandemic- interrupted return to the top flight.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.