Why Knowing the Number of PA Law Enforcement Agencies Matters
Pennsylvania has enacted laws to hold police officers accountable for misconduct, but how do citizens know that law enforcement actions are accurately reported? With PA Act 57, the legislature created a database that is supposed to track misconduct.
More than 1,100 Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies are enrolled to use the database. However, there is no way to know if this is all the agencies in Pennsylvania or merely a fraction.
Spotlight PA recently investigated the situation and pointed out the critical problem: “If the state doesn’t know how many agencies employ people with the power to make an arrest or carry a gun, for example, how can it hold them accountable? When agencies are overlooked by state and federal reporting, residents lose access to vital information about their communities.”
What is Act 57?
Act 57 of 2020 created a database to track police misconduct and provide guidelines for hiring new officers to be followed by law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania. All agencies in Pennsylvania are required to report to the database. However, some loopholes may result in a lack of enforcement.
What’s the Discrepancy Between State & Federal Numbers?
More than 1,100 law enforcement agencies have enrolled in the database created by Act 57. However, there is no indication of whether this is all the agencies in Pennsylvania. Additionally, there is ambiguous information about which agencies are included in federal reports.
According to Spotlight PA reporters, the number of agencies may change over time, but there is a large discrepancy. According to Pennsylvania, at the launch of the Act 57 database, there were more than 1,300 law enforcement agencies in 2021. However, in a 2018 Annual Uniform Crime Report, data had been received from 1,913 jurisdictions.
This dramatically differs from the federal FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which lists more than 1,700 Pennsylvania agency codes in its 2020 data. It is unclear if each “code” is a unique law enforcement agency or whether smaller units within larger departments have unique codes. Reporting to the federal program is voluntary, so some departments may not participate.
State and federal numbers do not specify what qualifies as a law enforcement agency and what is being counted.
Still No Clear Answer on the Number of Agencies
Spotlight PA asked ten people, including Pennsylvania lawmakers, federal officials, and academics, how many law enforcement agencies were in the state. None of them had an absolute number. Even the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and the governor did not have clear answers.
State Police Communications Director Lt. Adam Reed said, “It turns out that [we do] not have a definitive total on the number of agencies in PA.”
What’s the Problem with Not Knowing the Law Enforcement Agencies in Your Area?
When law enforcement agencies fail to report misconduct to the database, it can go unchecked. There is no oversight on the frequency of police misconduct in each agency. This reduces the opportunity for corrective action and transparency to the public.
Transparency between the police and the public is essential to building trust. Police officers have gained significant scrutiny because of their actions across the nation. Act 57 works to identify misconduct in the state and correct it.
While acts of severe police misconduct will become known to the public over time, the public cannot know that it is being addressed appropriately if it isn’t recorded in the database.
Why Are Police-Community Relationships So Important?
Strong relationships between the police and the community are essential to maintaining public safety and effective policing. Law enforcement agencies need the cooperation of the public, especially community leaders, to provide information about crime in neighborhoods. The public can also help develop solutions for problems with local crime.
Trust in the police depends on shared values and principles within the community. This requires procedural, nondiscriminatory justice and legitimacy. One of the critical components of this is accurate reporting of police misconduct.
The community has a right to know about misconduct and learn how the agency handles it. The Act 57 database is a tool that enables the sharing of this information when agencies participate.
How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help?
The legal team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys supports the registration of police agencies with the Act 57 database. We want communities to have information about police misconduct to hold agencies accountable.
If police misconduct was involved in your case, contact us today at (412) 281-2146 or contact us online for a consultation.