In the summer of 2020, the Pennsylvania legislature adopted two laws that impact police training and conduct, Act 57 and Act 59. Both were signed into law on July 14, 2020, taking effect on July 14, 2021, and directly impact municipal police department operations in multiple ways. First, Act 59 provides for mental health evaluations of Municipal Officers in three circumstances. First, where an officer requests an evaluation, second, where a Chief of Police refers an officer, or third, when an officer uses lethal force. Officers who are evaluated and determined to have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder must receive care from a licensed physician and will be placed on administrative duty until a physician determines they are able to resume full duties. Officers who refuse to undergo the required evaluation when they are ordered to attend by their Chief of Police or were involved in a lethal force incident must be placed on administrative duty until they comply with the requirements of the act. The act does not make any provision for Departments that lack “administrative duty” as a work category. It is unclear at this time whether Officers in such departments can be placed on unpaid leave.
Act 59 also created new training requirements for municipal police officers that will result in the development of new training for both new and veteran officers. All police officers will receive mandatory annual training in de-escalation techniques, the use of force, and harm reduction techniques. Officers will also receive biannual training in community and cultural awareness, implicit bias, procedural justice, and reconciliation techniques. Because these trainings are mandatory, municipalities should be aware that officers who attend elective courses on these topics will still be required to complete the mandatory courses.
The last area of training addressed by the Act is new officer training. The basic training curriculum will be revised to include training on topics such as combating child abuse, issues related to racial, ethnic, and economic diversity, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These revisions are expected to be completed in 2021 and will be included in all new officer training conducted after January 1, 2022.
Act 57, on the other hand, requires the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission to develop a database to hold separation records of all “law enforcement officers” in the Commonwealth (defined as “peace officers” in Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 501). The act required the database to be operational by July 14, 2021. Temporary regulations were adopted in March of 2021 in order to implement the Act. Under these regulations, a municipal employer must notify the Commission of an applicant’s final employment status within 7 days of hiring. A hiring report must be filed when the applicant has certain types of disciplinary history or criminal convictions. In those cases, the Chief of Police must submit a statement with an explanation of the reason for hiring said officer despite the disciplinary record or criminal convictions.
Furthermore, the local police department must maintain records of all discipline and conduct a complete background check of all new hires. Former employing police departments must disclose records of all discipline to the hiring police department.
We anticipate much more information about the Acts to be developed as final implementing regulations are created. Consult with your solicitor to determine if your ordinances need to be updated to comply with either of these two Acts and to stay informed of further developments.