On July 14, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 57 of 2020 into law which is intended to provide police departments with information regarding an officer’s prior work history to make reasoned hiring decisions. It also prevents officers with disciplinary issues from moving to another Department to find employment without knowledge of the officer’s history.
In accordance with the new law, all law enforcement agencies are to maintain “separation records” for law enforcement officers who leave employment with the Agency. Separation records must include the following:
1. The circumstances surrounding the employee’s separation.
2. Records of all criminal charges filed against an officer.
3. Records of all complaints made against an officer.
4. Records of the disposition of all complaints, including final and binding disciplinary actions, including imposition of probationary or other conditions related to employment.
The Act also requires all law enforcement agencies to conduct a background check, including a review of the “separation record” information for all law enforcement officer applicants prior to hiring. It mandates previous law enforcement agencies to provide an officer’s “separation record” upon written request from another law enforcement agency with a signed release of information from the applicant.
Moreover, if the “separation record” information is subject to a confidentiality agreement, the reporting agency must report that the employment information exists but is subject to a confidentiality agreement. If the information is sealed from disclosure by a Court Order, the Department is required to indicate that such an order exists, along with information identifying the court and case number.
Finally, the Act mandates that a statewide database is to be maintained by the Pennsylvania State Police and the Municipal Police Officers Training and Education Commission (MPOETC). The database will allow law enforcement agencies to query potential applicants and review all “separation record” in one clearinghouse location.
While a municipality is not prohibited from hiring an applicant with a problematic disciplinary history, it requires that the hiring agency complete a written record detailing the “reasoning and rationale” for hiring the officer. This statement must explain the decision to hire when the prospective employee’s “separation record” includes disciplinary action or a criminal conviction based on any of the following “Ten Deadly Sins”:
(i) excessive force;
(v) sexual abuse;
(vi) sexual misconduct;
(vii) domestic violence;
(viii) coercion of a false confession;
(ix) filing a false report; or,
(x) a judicial finding of dishonesty.
While public access to the database is prohibited, the “reasoning and rationale hiring statements” are subject to disclosure under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, in the interest of government transparency.
As the requirements of Act 57 recently went into effect on July 14, 2021, Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies continue to work to understand and implement the obligations of the Act in their hiring and employment policies. Although there are always issues with the implementation of new legislation, and Act 57 has seen its fair share of difficulties, it is the first step towards smart and reasonable police reform!
The attorneys at Siana Law look forward to partnering with your Department and Municipality in working to ensure compliance with Act 57 in your policies and procedures. Failure to do so can result in serious liability in potential civil rights litigation. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or for assistance.
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