Wolf was right to veto bill that would have greatly reduced police transparency

By vetoing an awful bill that would mandate blanket anonymity for police officers who use force, Gov. Tom Wolf struck a blow for police accountability and for fundamental American principles of criminal justice.

The Legislature turned those principles on their head when lawmakers passed a bill precluding municipal governments from identifying, for at least 30 days, officers who use force unless they are charged with crimes for doing so.

Such a law would establish police as a separate class of public agency, and police officers as a separate class of citizen.

Because police are empowered to use force on behalf of the state, transparency and accountability for those agencies are even more important than they are for other public agencies. The Legislature is 180 degrees off target in drawing a curtain over matters of life and death.

As a practical matter of life on the streets, the proposed law would widen the gap between many police agencies and the communities that they are supposed to serve and protect.

For any agency conducting public business, public scrutiny is a form of deterrence against wayward conduct.

“Publicity,” said Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, “is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Scrutiny plays a crucial role in the criminal justice system. By design, the American system is meant to preclude the use of secrecy to railroad innocent people. The Legislature would turn that idea on its head, using secrecy to prevent even an open inquiry into the conduct of public officials and employees.

The Legislature pandered to a favored constituency when it passed the bill. It is likely to do so again when it convenes anew in January. Mr. Wolf should work with lawmakers to dissuade them from that course, but should be prepared to wield his veto pen again if lawmakers persist in separating police agencies and officers from the communities they serve.

— The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

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