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Posted Friday, June 5, 2020

Governor Wolf Press Conference Today

Response to Protests Taking Place Across Pennsylvania

Today, Governor Tom Wolf discussed the State's response to protests taking place across Pennsylvania to condemn racism, oppression and injustice. Based on conversations with community leaders and local officials across the Commonwealth, as well as recommendations made in former President Obama’s Task Force in the 21st Century Policing Report released in 2015, the Wolf Administration will implement a multi-pronged approach to reform. 

Today, Governor Wolf stated the following:

  • He started by taking a moment of silence as the memorial service just ended in Minneapolis for George Floyd.
  • As Americans, it’s our duty to continuously strive to build a better Democracy – and right now our resolve is being tested.
  • 10 days ago, George Floyd was murdered as he was brutally pinned down by police officers causing him to suffocate, and he is not the first African American that has been killed by a police officer.
  • Both Pennsylvanians and Americans are joining together to demand long over due change.
  • Protesting has always and will always be an important part of Democracy, in fact that protests that have been occurring throughout the Nation have done their intended job to call our attention to the systematic injustice that has blocked our Nation from living out our destiny as the land of freedom and equality for all.
  • Earlier this week he spent time in Philadelphia, talking with community leaders, clergy, local officials, and business owner to listen and take their struggles and plans back to Harrisburg, he did the same with several other cities throughout Pennsylvania.
  • Throughout this week, he urged de-escalation and preached the theme of unity. But he acknowledged that as a leader, he needs to provide a reason for people to want to de-escalate.
  • All people in Harrisburg need to show that people are being heard, so today he took steps to address the concerns about long-standing violence and oppression against Pennsylvanians of color. 
  1. He directed the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission (MPOETC), State Police, and all other train academies for law enforcement to review their training curriculum.
    1. This will include a thorough review and revision of the use of force training.
    2. This will also develop standardized testing and best practices for verbal de-escalation techniques, trauma-center approaches, mental health first aid, and implicit bias training.
      1. This is based on recommendations from the 21st Century Report on policing that was created under the guidance of President Barrack Obama and co-chaired by Commissioner Ramsey, who was formally the Commission or Policy in Philadelphia.
    3. This effort will commence immediately.
  2. Everyone is going to help municipalities develop Citizen Police Advisory Boards.
    1. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will develop a program that provides technical assistance to municipalities to create a Citizens Police Advisory Board to address police action that leads to injury or death.
    2. They will work with cities and towns to create organizations that provide transparency and independent accountability.
  3. He is going to create a Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Advisory Commission that will review incidents of misconduct within the Law Enforcement Agencies under his jurisdiction, who will make recommendations to him and the heads of those Agencies, on how we can improve public interactions and prevent misconduct, oppression, and violence targeted at black and brow communities.
  4. He will be created a Deputy Inspector General within the Office of Inspector General.
    1. The Deputy will be in charge of four things: deterring, detecting, preventing and eradicating fraud, waste, misconduct, and abuse among Law Enforcement Agencies under his jurisdiction.
      1. He had a discussion yesterday with Commissioner Ramsey who chairs the Commission on Crime & Delinquency, and they discussed that many Law Enforcement Agencies have implemented many of that Commission’s recommendations across Pennsylvania.
      2. He plans to speed up the process, so Law Enforcement Agencies have a better and understanding of community relations, a better record of community relations, and a better understanding of the people that they serve.
    2. He will task the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency to create a Racial & Ethnic Disparity Sub-Committee under the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee.
      1. This Sub-Committee will be tasked with reviewing criminal justice data at all decision points to develop a comprehensive strategy for policy changes, educational programs, funding, and technical assistance at the State and Local levels. 
  • On Tuesday, members of Police Reform Working Group – which includes State and Local elected officials, Chief Defender of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, as well as several attorneys – put forth some thoughtful proposals calling for the reform of community relationships at every level.
  • This is a culmination of years of work from the General Assembly, and the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, which they previously put forward legislation in this space.
  • He agreed with them that we need to explore greater oversight of law enforcement to root out misconduct and abuse, and he will work with them and their recommendations to pass legislation to address these inequities.
  • There has already been some success, as he implemented a Fair Funding Formula, providing more funding to our schools, but there is still a long way to go before we can make all of our schools truly equal.
  • The State has made the criminal justice system fairer by passing “Clean Slate” into law, by strengthening support for County probation programs, by fixing inadequate sentencing guidelines, and by reforming the post-trial criminal justice system.
  • The State has addressed criminal justice reform on a bipartisan basis, and that is what they will need to do again to fix these long-standing inequities.
  • He also pointed out that the State has reduced it’s prison population, and as of today, from January 2015 to today, there are 6,700 fewer people incarcerated in Pennsylvania State Correctional Institutions – and 80% of that reduction are people of color.
  • As we move forward, we need to address the looming systemic failings that have created this situation, and this is not about the people – it’s about the broad system of inequities that has sustained racism in the United States and Pennsylvania for too many centuries.
  • These type of fights are real, but don’t have an endpoint. We have to keep going to make sure our Commonwealth is more fair and equal for everyone – which is something that all 13 million Pennsylvanians share a vested self interest in.
  • Pennsylvania has some of the best law enforcement in the Nation, and it has been an honor for him as the Governor, to be able to work with them.
  • To establish better uniformity across our Law Enforcement Agencies, we will strive to have all Police Departments become accredited, which is a step that the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Associations indicated that they support.
  • As we change our system, we must continue to work with communities and policy organizations across the State to make sure that the changes that we undertake are successful and long-lasting, because if we are going to transform our justice system for the better and make it fair, then we all need to work together.
  • This is a call for reflection and improvement, and most of all learning – we all must rise to the challenge because too many people have lost faith in our Public Safety Institutions.
  • We must re-double our efforts to earn the trust of every person that we serve.
  • Thousands of peaceful protestors have lifted this Call To Action for freedom and equality throughout Pennsylvania, and we cannot let their voices be drowned out by a few bad actors, and we cannot lose further sight of the legitimate injustice that gave rise to the peaceful protests in the first place.
  • We must continue to listen to the voices of the American people and Pennsylvanians who are black and brown, and who have been shut out, kept down, and cast aside for too long.
  • He urged protestors to continue to be peaceful, and denounce those taking advantage of a very legitimate anger with illegal acts and destructions – as it’s time for Pennsylvanians and for Americans to come together to eliminate racism and injustice wherever it exists, but that cannot be done in chaos.
  • He prayed that common sense, peace, and unity will prevail into a new chapter in our Nation’s history, one where we finally eradicate the disgraceful racism and prejudice that has plagued America since it’s founding days.
  • People who are black and brown should not have to lead this change along, so for the leaders that are white, need to call out the injustice and speak out alongside the communities that have repressed in this country for centuries.
  • We have the chance to make our Nation and our Commonwealth one that our founders envisioned, one of justice and liberty for every American and Pennsylvanian. Our founders believed that we could do this, and so does he. 

Below please find the questions and answers from today's press conference. 

Questions asked to and answered by Governor Wolf:

 

  • Where do you think we fall short in Pennsylvania particularly in some of these areas? It seems like there have been efforts in the past to make these types of changes that you are talking about.
    • If you look at the 21st Century Report on Policing, it looks at broad areas – health care, education, housing, food security – this is an issue that extends throughout the way that we live. We can’t afford to have two Pennsylvania’s or two America’s, so this is a call for everyone to pull together and say that we need to have equity, fairness, decency, and humane treatment of others. Again as I keep saying, if you can take justice away from someone, they can take it away from you. Unfairness is pernicious and it can extend like cancer if we don’t stop it, and we can’t say it’s okay to do it over here because if we do that, we basically conceded the point that you can do it to me. I won’t concede that. 
  • Do you support improved access to police body cam footage? And if so, will you reverse Act 22 which limited access to that footage?               
    • Yes, that is among the things that I am going to work with the Legislative Black Caucus and see how we can proceed with that. 
  • To what extent would you support public access to police footage? You signed legislation back in 2017 that it exempted it from the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL), have you thought about the extent to which you would like to see the public be able to access that?
    • Yes, I think we need to be more transparent and I would like to re-visit that. 
  • Regarding the body cams, because of lot of these deal with police entities under your control, is there any thought to making some sort of require to make State Police wear body cams because that is relatively limited?
    • As I said before, I agree that we need to re-visit that. 
  • Are you calling for all law enforcement across the State to review the way they train for de-escalation? I think that’s a big thing that people are calling for right now.
    • Yes I am, however the Constitution gives the municipalities their own prerogatives and rights, but I recognize that part of what I have here is bully pull. What I have seen here is a need for our officials to be as transparent as we can possibly be, and to be trained in a way that would actually make them better stewards of their communities.   
  • When I was looking at things that you could do within your Executive Authority, I wanted to know if you thought that you could have the Pennsylvania State Police collect more information on police misconduct and brutality and make that information public for more data. Is that something that you would support?
    • What I’m going to do is continue to work closely with the Legislative Black Caucus in terms of looking at things we need to do, that I haven’t announced today. 
  • Have you spoken to police about these plans? And how concerned are you about the safety of officers going forward? Because we have seen a number of attacks on them, and be de-escalating situations, could there be a balance?
    • I think all of us have a vested interest in making sure that there is a level of trust between the community and police officers. We’re not going to get to that if we are asking our police officers to defend a system that discriminates. We are an education system which means doing the right thing, and that’s unfair. I want to build trust, and what I am trying to do is not to focus on saying that the problem is the police, it’s that we don’t have trust – and that stems from a much broader and contextual truth in American society…that it’s just not fair. 
  • The second point today was about the Citizen Police Advisory Boards at the municipality level, are you actually suggesting that every municipality with a police force create that board? Because some police departments are very small.
    • Yes, and I recognize that some of those will push back on that, and I don’t have the right to impose on that. However, I think that is something that communities really ought to do so that their citizens have absolute faith and trust for those serving them on the front lines. 
  • Can you elaborate on exactly what kind of teeth would those Advisory Boards have?  
    • I don’t have the details at this point, that still needs to be worked out. 
  • Has there been any push back from police departments? Have you gotten a response from them so far?  
    • I think there’s legitimate reason to be concerned, and I think the point here is what I’m trying to do is figure out a way to build a level of trust between those who protect and serve, and the communities that they protect and serve. I think that is going to require more transparency and more of the things that I am talking about here. 
  • Will the Inspector General release data of excessive force among State Police? And because this is part of your Executive Action, once you leave, will the person in that position also leave?
    • The answer to the second question is that the Inspector General term is going to be up to that person who typically serves at the pleasure of the Governor – so that person may or may not survive my term. As to exactly what they make public and what they don’t, I don’t have that information right now. 
  • Regarding the State Advisory Commission, how is that different than entities and mechanisms that already exist to review improper conduct by State Law Enforcement Officials? Who is going to make up that Commission?
    • We don’t have one right now. Are you referring to something like a citizen review panel? We’re basically saying that there has to be accountability to an independent group outside of these Law Enforcement Agencies. We haven’t decided who will be part of that yet, this is just the big picture.   
  • There is legislation pending and it was written after Antwon Rose was killed in East Pittsburgh, which would narrow the definition of allowable deadly use of force – is that legislation that you support?
    • I would have to take a look at that because I’m not sure what piece of legislation you’re referring to. 
  • The Pennsylvania State Trooper Association just released a statement, and they are saying that what you are saying here today is basically implying that our State Police are no better than the people that have been charged with Mr. Floyd’s death. They also say this was clear when you marched during the pandemic with people who were holding signs that said “Blue Lives Murder.”
    • First of all, I’m not comparing them at all. The PSP are doing a fine job. Regarding that sign, I was in the protest yesterday and there were a lot of signs, but I don’t condone that. This is not an effort to point a finger, it’s an effort to build trust. 
  • Will anything be different when a State Trooper reports to work tomorrow? Is there anything that will be immediate? Or do you see this being more so long-term?  
    • I’m not sure it will be immediate, but we are going to work quickly. Some of what I’m talking about requires legislation, but most of it I can do very quickly and I will. 
  • We had protests across Pennsylvania and run ins with the police and the public. Do you feel like there were incidents in Pennsylvania where police acted inappropriately?
    • I think what happened in Minneapolis and what many people were saying there was at the protests, was the sense that there are two Pennsylvania’s, and none of us (white or black) can afford to live where we think it’s okay for someone to be denied the adequate resources or the things that we need to live fulfilled lives. I think what we saw in the protests was that, that’s what I saw in Philadelphia and yesterday in Harrisburg. This is about what we need to do to re-dedicate ourselves, and try to live up to the noble ideals that this Nation was founded on. I want to continue to do that, and that is really important. We are here to pass laws and do things to address specific issues, but we are stewards in the grand Democratic tradition. Here we have a chance to make our Democracy better for everybody. 
  • Out of the recommendations you outlined today and the potential Executive Action you talked about, are there any that you feel are likely to have the most effect in the short-term?
    • No, I think they are all important. 
  • These bills on police reform have been pending in the General Assembly for years when Antwon Rose was shot, they were introduced and they have lingered in committee for years. Why do you think that is? And do you think you will now get the support for the GOP?
    • I hope so. I think the civil unrest may remind us that we have a long way to go, and this is not just the black versus the white community – this is all of us. We have a shared interest to make this system as fair and equitable as we possibly can. This is a moment in time when we have a chance to bring Republicans and Democrats together. I don’t think this should be a partisan thing, and the fact that it has been in the past, I think is our inability to understand how important and how essential this is to our Democracy and how we live our lives everyday. 
  • Do you see any data or anecdotal evidence that communities of color have suffered more in the economic effects of the pandemic? And if you have, is there any way that they can be helped specifically?
    • I think I can get you the data, but there is data showing the unemployment rate among African Americans is higher, and the incarceration and death penalty rate has been higher for them as well. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything to say that their communities have not been disadvantaged. We have collected information on the prevalence of the disease and the African American community is one of the vulnerable populations that have been effected by COVID-19. 
  • To the extent that you are talking about directing training at academies to review their use of force policy, do you have the legal authority to tell them that they have to review it and make sure it’s up to date?
    • I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think I do in terms of local municipalities. But we do provide a lot of training for those municipalities, and I think to the extent that we can say that this is normal part of training for someone who wants to go into law enforcement, that that will actually be taken up by local municipalities.