Legislators offer ways to improve police-community relations

News conference held week after the shooting death of Antwon Rose

HARRISBURG, June 25 – State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., along with Austin Davis, Ed Gainey and Jake Wheatley, all D-Allegheny, and other members from across the state, offered solutions on how to restore public trust and improve the professionalism of law enforcement, during a news conference today held at the Capitol. They hoped taking action will help improve police and community relations.

The lawmakers unveiled a framework for legislative action, including three main initiatives:

  • Establishing a licensing board or commission, similar to nearly every other professional occupation from doctors and lawyers to barbers, that would be able to independently take action regarding individuals’ ability to participate in that profession. They believe law enforcement should be no different.
  • Creating a bipartisan caucus to bring policymakers together to offer ideas and best practices from across the commonwealth
  • Enacting legislation similar to laws that apply to teachers, so that any incidents or transgressions related to their employment can be shared with potential employers.

“As a parent, none of us want to ever bury a child,” said Wheatley, who is also Democratic chairman of the House Finance Committee. “We want to find ways on how we can prevent and possibly eliminate police shootings of unarmed men and women, particularly those of color.”

The news conference was held almost a week after the death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose, who was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Davis said it was imperative to have transparency during the investigation into what occurred between Rose and the police officer.

“We need to restore trust between police officers in our communities,” Davis said. “We as elected officials need to be committed to make sure that events like these don’t happen again and that we’re putting policies in place to ensure that.”

The funeral for Rose was held Monday morning at the Woodland Hills Intermediate School in Pittsburgh. Gainey said what happened to Rose has eroded the trust in police.

“It’s a sad situation to have to bury your own child and it’s particularly hard in a situation that could have been avoided,” Gainey said. “When an officer is not in an imminent threat, they don’t have to shoot anyone, especially when an individual does not have a gun.”

Added Gainey, “We need diversity training because some cops are not used to working in urban areas; therefore education is needed. Community and police relationships have to improve. These police shootings are a public health crisis.”

Harris, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, said, ““We need a full investigation so that all of the facts can be brought to light, and that investigation needs to be fair and transparent, so that we as citizens can have restored faith in a process of reviewing what police officers do.”

Harris added, “What we have to talk about is young men, who look like me, who continue to be gunned down in our streets, in the back. We want a fair and open review of the incidents that happened on that day so that we can provide closure for this family. It is not a Pennsylvania issue; it’s an issue in America.”

Wheatley took to the House floor Friday and gave an impassioned speech regarding gun violence and the death of Rose. 

“We must restore public trust and relationships with our law enforcement,” Wheatley said. “We cannot keep turning a blind eye to police shootings.”