Should police names be withheld after use of force?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Two days after Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle shot and killed David Kassick, her name was released to the public. Some say that was too soon because the investigation was ongoing and Mearkle was not charged with any crime.

Representative Martina White (R-Philadelphia) is sponsoring House Bill 1538, which could change when and if an officer’s name is released to the public.

“It would be, in some ways, the first of its kind across the country,” White said.

The bill would require a use of force investigation to be completed before an officer’s name could be released to the public.

“I think that this allows for at least facts to unfold and for time to figure out what exactly transpired instead of just making assumptions and rushing to judgement,” White said. “I believe it puts the officer in a fair position in order to defend themselves to the public who do scrutinize them heavily.”

If the officer is charged with a crime, their name would be required to be released to the public. If the officer is not charged, their name could be withheld.

“The only circumstances in which they would not be able to release the name is if the life of the officer or the lives of the immediate family members of that officer would be put in jeopardy by releasing the name,” White said.

“This bill is word from on high at the state Capitol that every municipality has to withhold this information until a certain period,” Andy Hoover of the ACLU of Pennsylvania said.

Hoover says the bill compromises transparency and could imply the officers have something to hide.

“In these situations it is important that there is transparency and that local officials can make decisions about what to do with this information based on circumstances. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution from the state Capitol,” Hoover said.

The bill was passed unanimously by the Judiciary Committee. It is awaiting consideration before the full House.

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