WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Governor Tom Wolf signed off Tuesday on two law enforcement reform bills. The legislation comes amid nationwide calls for change in the way police forces operate.
It comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in May. One of the new laws requires pre-employment background checks for law enforcement officers. A second bill signed into law requires mental health evaluations for officers.
Governor Wolf says these bills, which garnered bi-partisan support, are an important first step in achieving police reform.
Pennsylvania is one of the first states in the nation to pass such legislation and reaction to that legislation is starting to be heard across the commonwealth and our region. Governor Tom Wolf says this new legislation is just the beginning of reforms to law enforcement operations in Pennsylvania.
“These two laws make progress—progress in making every Pennsylvanian safe. And they build on actions I took in June which include establishing additional oversight to law enforcement, supporting the creation of local citizen advisory boards and new training—especially in the use of force,” said Wolf.
Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Joe Coffay says many of the reforms mandated by the new laws are already in place in his department.
“A lot of the training has been implemented by the municipal police training academy, plus additional training that we do in reference to the different issues that are brought up in this act.”
But Coffay agrees that more training can only help make the community safer and bring the community together.
“We want them to know we’re here to serve the public and you know we’re open to any changes that help us do our job better as we move forward.”
“It’s a great step,” said Daryl Lewis. He’s a community organizer for Black Lives Matter in Wilkes-Barre. He thinks the new laws are right on the mark, especially when it comes to the database for police officer records and racial understanding training for police officers.
“Actually implementing a system to train against implicit bias will help these officers look at somebody they would otherwise approach with fear and start to approach with reason and consideration and their training,” said Lewis.
The Wilkes-Barre NAACP is also on board with the law enforcement legislation.
“The fact with the database where disciplinary actions can be tracked and facts about implicit and explicit bias training, all of that you just said, is substantial for the people of the commonwealth,” said Ron Felton, president of the Wilkes-barre chapter of the NAACP.
Lewis and Chief Coffay agree these new laws are a step in the right direction. They also agree that more has to be done to open the lines of communication between law enforcement and the community—especially the minority community.
The City of Wilkes-Barre announced the creation of the Wilkes-Barre City Police Advisory Committee. The committee was created to give a voice to residents with concerns about police interactions and responses. As well promoting the fair, just and dignified treatment of every person.
For more information on the Police Advisory Committee visit their website.
You can see more on the law enforcement legislation signed today here.