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Commission Approves Mental Health and Substance Abuse Crisis Recommendations, Other Law Enforcement Improvements


Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Citizen Advisory Commission (Commission) today unanimously approved its latest round of recommendations related to police-involved shootings, other uses of force, and bias-based policing. Governor ​Tom Wolf established this first of its kind Commission to review and improve policies within commonwealth law enforcement agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction including, but not limited to, the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), the Department of General Services Capitol Police, and the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) Park Rangers.

Today’s meeting featured speakers from Blueprints for Addiction Recovery along with Elizabethtown Borough Chief of Police Edward M. Cunningham, who addressed the Commission on mental health and substance abuse crisis response by law enforcement.

“I am heartened by the Commission’s recommendation to help address mental health and substance abuse crisis situations,” said Deputy State Inspector General and Commission Chairperson, Sha S. Brown. “The Commission approved many excellent recommendations to improve Pennsylvania law enforcement, and I am grateful for the cooperation of PSP and DCNR as we work together to provide the best service possible to commonwealth citizens.”

The Commission reviews completed internal investigative findings to determine if they were prompt, fair, impartial, complete, and performed in a manner consistent with applicable policies. They also consider whether adjudicatory findings or any imposed discipline were reasonable under law enforcement protocols and whether any policy or training deficiencies exist.

All final reports of the Commission, along with covered agencies’ responses, will be available on the Commission’s webpage when completed. Today’s recommendations relate to citizen engagement and enhancements to training and investigations procedures, and they include:

Citizen Engagement:

1.    Mental Health and Substance Abuse Crisis Response by Law Enforcement – Where feasible, PSP should consider enhancements to its policies and training (based on best practices) concerning encounters with and responding to service calls involving citizens in mental health and/or substance abuse crisis situations, which includes seeking the assistance of mental or behavioral health and substance abuse crisis intervention specialists whenever possible.

2.   Duty to Render Aid (Tactical Medical and First Aid Kits) and Vehicle Extraction Tools – PSP should consider the purchase of full tactical medical kits (along with corresponding training for members) and ensure, by frequent supervisory inspection, that each member’s first aid kit includes necessary and adequate quantities of supplies.  In addition, PSP should consider the purchase of vehicle extraction tools for members that include a window punch and seatbelt cutting options.

3.   Citizen Engagement and Communication – PSP should consider developing a citizen engagement brochure and adopting a policy to distribute information, in both English and Spanish, through PSP’s webpage and social media accounts concerning the following topics: (a)  what to expect during an encounter with a Trooper; (b) a citizen’s rights when interacting or communicating with a Trooper; (c) responsibilities and obligations of both Troopers and citizens during law enforcement activities; (d) how to file a complaint; (e) a citizen’s right to re-file a bias-based policing complaint after disposition of court cases; (f) notice of the 60-day retention period for video evidence that may support a citizen’s complaint regarding a Trooper’s conduct; (g) a citizen’s legal rights concerning body and vehicle search and seizure; (h) a citizen’s legal rights regarding asset forfeiture and information on how a citizen can reclaim their property; and (i)  what a citizen should expect if arrested or taken into custody.

Enhancements to Training and Investigations Procedures:

1.    Use of Force Policy Enhancements (De-escalation) – DCNR should consider enhancing its Use of Force policy to include a definition of “reasonable force” consistent with United States Supreme Court precedent. DCNR should also consider requiring de-escalation protocols, when feasible, consistent with DCNR’s training (which mirrors a similar recommendation concerning PSP’s Use of Force policy adopted by the Commission on December 10, 2021).

2.  Body Worn Cameras – DCNR should consider implementing a body worn camera program as recommended by best practices.  This recommendation mirrors a similar recommendation concerning PSP’s efforts adopted by the Commission on December 10, 2021.

3.    Internal Reviews of Use of Force Determinations – PSP should consider requiring documentation of a member’s conduct, prior to the use of force, and confirm such conduct is considered when determining whether such force is reasonable under the circumstances.

4.   Use of Force Policy Enhancements (Discharge of Firearm at or from Moving Vehicle) PSP should consider adopting policy language that unequivocally prohibits the discharge of firearms at or from a moving vehicle unless certain conditions are met, including whether the threat of deadly force is apparent by means other than the vehicle itself and whether all reasonable steps are taken to avoid inadvertent injury to innocent bystanders.

5.    Use of Force Post-Incident Interview Procedures – In accordance with best practices offered by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and others, PSP should consider enhancing policies to prohibit involved members from discussing any details of any use of force incident both before and after post-incident interviews and from viewing video evidence until a comprehensive record is obtained (unless permitted by the district attorney or attorney general, under certain circumstances). PSP should also consider enhancing policies to ensure post-incident interviews occur as soon as practical after the 72-hour waiting period.

6.   Arrest Warrant Procedures PSP should consider enhancing its policy to prohibit the service of nighttime arrest warrants at private residences without supervisory approval in circumstances where the underlying criminal charge(s) and an immediate apprehension does not warrant such action.  When approving nighttime arrest warrants, PSP should also require independent and documented recognizance and other pre-planning.

7.   Enhancements to PSP’s Early Intervention Program – PSP should consider updating its Early Intervention Program (EIP) policy to require bi-monthly inquiries to identify EIP candidates who may be engaging in racial or ethnic discrimination, bias-based policing, and/or racial insensitivity and should consider mandating remedial training following administrative investigations and adjudicatory findings of bias-based policing.

Governor Wolf created the Commission in 2020 by Executive Order, by which the Commission is comprised of 21 voting members and six ex-officio members. Voting members include one representative from each of the Pennsylvania State Police’s current 15 Troop geographic areas and six citizen members chosen at-large.

Reports of abuse within law enforcement agencies under the Governor’s jurisdiction may be anonymously reported by filing an online complaint or calling the Law Enforcement Oversight Tipline: 1-833-581-1692.

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