Commission Approves Law Enforcement Recommendations

December 10, 2021

The Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Citizen Advisory Commission (Commission) today approved recommendations related to police-involved shootings, other uses of force and bias-based policing. Governor Wolf established the first-of-its-kind Commission last year to review and improve policies within commonwealth law enforcement agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction including, but not limited to, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), the Department of General Services Capitol Police, and the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) Park Rangers.

“I applaud the work of Commissioners and the cooperation of all covered agencies as we work to improve policies in Pennsylvania,” said Deputy State Inspector General and Commission Chairperson, Sha S. Brown. “With the assistance of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Commission received extensive training and was well-equipped to review PSP’s investigations and provide meaningful recommendations.” 

The Commission announced in May the formation of three committees to review completed internal investigative findings to determine if they were prompt, fair, impartial, complete and performed in a manner consistent with applicable policies:

  • The Critical Incident Review Committee reviews investigations of police-involved shootings resulting in injury or death of civilians conducted by covered agencies;
  • The Use of Force Review Committee reviews a random sampling of other uses of force involving injury or death of civilians; and
  • The Bias-Based Policing Review Committee reviews all investigations of racial or ethnic discrimination and other bias-based policing and/or external complaints of bias or discrimination during interactions with covered agencies.

The Review Committees have completed their first set of reviews. The Review Committees also considered whether any findings on adjudication or any discipline imposed were reasonable under law enforcement protocols and determined if any policy or training deficiencies exist. Each committee then prepared a preliminary report and recommendations for the covered agency, which were approved today by the full Commission.

The Review Committees’ summarized recommendations include:

Critical Incident Review Committee:

Recommendation: That the Pennsylvania State Police require all criminal investigations of all its use of force incidents resulting in death or serious bodily injury, or in-custody deaths, be referred to an external agency.

Note: The Commission’s Critical Incident Review Committee recognizes that legislative changes are necessary to require both independent criminal investigations and prosecutorial reviews of such incidents (as reflected in best practices by the National Conference of Legislators and the United States Department of Justice, and as similarly mandated in surrounding jurisdictions like Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York).

Use of Force Review Committee:

Recommendations: That the Pennsylvania State Police: (1) strengthen its use of force policy to include, among other things, enhanced definitions to clarify use of an objective reasonableness standard, bolstering de-escalation and supplemental training following use of force incidents, mandatory reporting of certain use of force incidents, and specific guidelines detailing a use of force spectrum; (2) continue its efforts to procure Mobile Video Recorder (MVR) systems that include various options for Interview Room Recorders and Body Worn Cameras; (3) consider enhancements to its policies relating to transportation of juvenile status offenders and others for civil enforcement purposes; and (4) consider the purchase of additional permanently installed security shields or “cage cars.”

Note: The Commission’s Use of Force Review Committee notes legislative changes to Title 18, Chapter 5, Section 508 (Use of force in law enforcement) are necessary to better ensure compliance with United States Supreme Court precedent that more clearly demonstrates application of an “objectively reasonable” standard when evaluating the actions of law enforcement personnel’s use of force.

Bias-Based Policing Review Committee:

Recommendations: That the Pennsylvania State Police: (1) revise notification letters such that citizens can refile bias-based complaints for full investigation following completion of underlying criminal proceedings; and (2) update certain policies (including personal use of social or other media) regarding, among other things, inclusion of all protected classes concerning prohibited discriminatory or offensive conduct, and mandate certain actions such as a duty to report acts of bias-based policing, in-service annual bias-based policing training and limit memberships and/or affiliations to certain organizations that negatively impact PSP.

Governor Wolf created the Commission last year by Executive Order. The Commission is comprised of 21 voting members and six ex-officio members. Voting members include one representative from each of the Pennsylvania State Police’s current 15 Troop geographic areas and six citizen members chosen at-large.

Reports of abuse within law enforcement agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction may be anonymously reported by filing an online complaint or calling the Law Enforcement Oversight Tipline: 1-833-581-1692.

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