By David Kennedy – Posted Jun 15, 2020
Pennsylvania state troopers don’t enlist for medals or to win popularity contests. Many of us grew up wanting to be troopers, proud to serve our communities and willing to lay down our lives if necessary. Since the formation of our department in 1905, our ranks have suffered 98 line-of-duty deaths. Some date back so far we don’t even have pictures of those brave troopers.
We believe our Call of Honor is nothing less than a sacred oath. Every trooper must memorize it. In particular, it includes this line: “It is my duty to obey the law and to enforce it without any consideration of class, color, creed or condition.” The line is important because it means no one is above the law. Including us. Especially us. That’s the way it should be.
We’re incredibly proud of the work our department has done in the areas of social justice and maintaining standards of proper behavior through a strict disciplinary system. In fact, proposals offered by Gov. Tom Wolf and other legislators would duplicate many robust practices already in place that make Pennsylvania a model for holding its law enforcement agencies to the highest standards.
For example, Gov. Wolf is calling for a review of training and officer education. The Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) currently reviews, develops curriculum and oversees the training of municipal police officers under the direction of the Pennsylvania State Police. When President Barack Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Pennsylvania police officers played a vital role. The initiative was chaired by Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey. The curriculum was crafted by FOP Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, which consists primarily of Pittsburgh police officers. MPOETC adopted its guidelines from President Obama’s task force.
The governor raises the idea of enhancing officer safety and wellness, but Pennsylvanians should know that our department already requires a “Fitness for Duty” standard, which could entail independent medical and psychological evaluations throughout employment. Emerging issues are identified and dealt with through a comprehensive Early Intervention Program – one of the first in the nation.
The Pennsylvania State Police also knows it has an important role to play in our communities on social justice issues. Our Office of Heritage Affairs serves as an ally to victims of hate crimes and as a mediator between law enforcement and community members involved in contentious situations. Its work has been meaningful, even if it hasn’t warranted the attention of the media. This office also teaches cadets about cultural diversity, racial profiling awareness and implicit bias. We provide these services to other police departments that request it.
Gov. Wolf has called for the creation of a new deputy inspector general and Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Advisory Commission to review allegations of misconduct. These steps ignore that the State Police already has an exhaustive review of all instances of misconduct. Each case must be reviewed by: the Internal Affairs Division; Area Commanders; Bureau Directors; Troop Commanders; the Department Disciplinary Office; and the Office of Chief Counsel. The department’s Equal Opportunity Employment Office and Equality and Inclusion Office also investigate incidents of alleged wrongdoing within the State Police. All allegations of criminal misconduct are thoroughly investigated by experts, in consultation with the Attorney General, elected local district attorneys and even federal agencies. Police shootings and other serious uses of force receive outside reviews from the district attorney in the county where an incident occurs, as well as the governor’s own Office of General Counsel.
Pennsylvania state troopers also have a track record of bringing our own members to justice. We do this because we took an oath to serve our fellow Pennsylvanians. It includes these words: “I must serve honestly, faithfully, and if need be, lay down my life as others have done before me, rather than swerve from the path of duty.” Those who violate this oath do not deserve to wear our uniform.
The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association recently signed on to work with Attorney General Josh Shapiro to push for legislation that would create a statewide registry to allow police departments to check the backgrounds of all potential officer candidates. We have long supported a statewide registry so our department can ensure it only hires people who are worthy of being a state trooper, and look forward to being part of this effort.
David Kennedy is president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association.