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Pa. keeps police misconduct records secret


Pennsylvania laws that have long protected police from scrutiny are under a microscope, following the viral video of George Floyd’s final moments.
If a police officer has a history of misconduct, can the public know?
That is the question many are asking, following reports that the officer seen kneeling on George Floyd's neck had multiple complaints.
The answer in Pennsylvania may surprise you.
The public is demanding transparency that many state laws don’t afford.
“The police do not give up information about their background,” Joel Sansone, a civil defense attorney out of Pittsburgh, said.
For civil defense attorneys like Sansone, who have tried countless cases involving police misconduct and excessive force, not having access to an officer’s professional history is damaging to a case.
“As a juror, if you were being asked to decide whether or not a police officer committed the misconduct that he's accused of committing, wouldn't you want to know if he'd done the same thing before,” Sansone asked.
The Minneapolis officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, causing Floyd's death, had 18 previous complaints. In Pennsylvania, this information could be hidden.
Only 12 states have public police records, and while some have limited access, Devon Jacobs, attorney to George Floyd's family, said Pennsylvania is one of 23 states that prohibits any form of that record to be shared.
“Why wouldn't a police department want these records out there, to build trust, and to keep the public's trust,” Jacobs asked.
Locally, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse put together a roundtable of law enforcement to discuss their reporting practices when force is used.
"Any instance when force is used, we want a document from the officer's perspective of what happened, what took place, so we can track," Lt. Russel Widner Jr., with the Harrisburg Police Department, said.
But, are internal reports enough, if the public can’t access the records?
Jacobs says "no," emphasizing that this unsealing of police records is a congressional issue.
“We don't even have a set of national standards," Jacobs said. "I mean, what profession do you know where there are no national standards that apply?"
Pennsylvania’s new Right to Know Act provides various open records, but includes exceptions that protect state officials, including police.

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