A Pennsylvania database of police personnel records lauded as a national model is riddled with loopholes that raise serious questions about its ability to flag police officers with histories of misconduct, Spotlight PA reports. A 2020 state law passed after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing protests created the database and required every law enforcement agency in the state to use it, but did not include any enforcement measures if they failed to comply. Law enforcement agencies must upload records when an officer leaves their employment, but not if an officer receives a warning or suspension and stays on the job. Legislators and officials from both political parties initially hailed the database as a crucial step toward ensuring police officers with histories of serious wrongdoing don’t bounce from department to department undetected.
So far, more than 1,100 agencies — likely the majority of law enforcement agencies in the state — have enrolled to use the database and about 61 percent of those have uploaded records. While there are more than 2,500 individual files in the database, separation records of any law enforcement officers who left their job before the law took effect are not required to be added — another gap that could weaken the law’s efficacy. Consulting the database before hiring is required, but there are “no penalties in the act for non-compliance,” according to the State Police. That’s an unusual omission for a law regulating a governmental agency, said David Rudovsky, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney who teaches law at the University of Pennsylvania. Because the database is not public under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know law, it is nearly impossible to get a deeper understanding of how agencies are interpreting the rule or what kinds of misconduct records are being included in the archive.