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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: December 31, 2020 11:15 AM
From: Senator Judith L. Schwank
To: All Senate members
Subject: Improving Police Diversity in Pennsylvania
In the near future, I plan to introduce a package of legislation aimed at improving the relationship between communities and their police forces. One of the sources of this tension is rooted in the fact that many police force staff are not racially and ethnically representative of the communities they serve, particularly in communities of color.

One way we can improve these relationships is by recruiting more members of underrepresented minority groups to work as police officers. Often, the barriers for individuals in pursuing careers in law enforcement, particularly for minority and low-income individuals, are substantial. A distrust of law enforcement, the costs of police training, prior low-level non-violent criminal convictions, and a lack of mentorship are all hurdles that must be addressed in recruiting qualified minority candidates.

Local law enforcement agencies across the country have utilized incentives in their police officer recruiting strategies and some states are beginning to address many of the specific issues surrounding the lack of diverse police officer candidates. This package of legislation will take a multi-pronged approach to increasing police diversity and community representation through a series of initiatives and incentives.

We know that representation matters. When people in positions of authority are representative of the communities they serve, trust between civilians and police will be improved. Policing cultures will be strengthened by the diverse life experiences and perspectives of their officers. Please join me in ensuring Pennsylvania’s police forces have equitable representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color officers in our communities.

Document #1

Introduced as SB395

Description: Establish Police Diversity Recruitment Fund

This legislation would establish a Police Diversity Recruitment Fund which will provide assistance to local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) with a stated mission of employing a more diverse police force. The fund will be accessible through an application process and will be available to cover a range of strategies, including recruitment incentives for minority candidates such as police academy tuition assistance, hiring bonuses and reimbursements for moving expenses.  It would also lend support to LEAs with traditional and non-traditional marketing and recruitment campaigns, including cooperatives with schools, mentorships and internships. By getting police into communities of color in positive, non-enforcement settings, such as talking one-on-one or through school or community programs, distrust from potential recruits can hopefully be mended and children at a young age can see that the relationship between police and the community should not be adversarial.  
In addition to funding financial incentives for minority recruitment efforts, the legislation would provide for additional points on the civil service exam. Veterans are given 10 preferential points on their final scores. Points would be added to the civil service exam for candidates from underrepresented groups or who will serve in communities in which they reside with an aim to increase interested and qualified minority candidates.

Document #2

Introduced as SB394

Description: Financial Assistance and Living Expense Stipends

This legislation would make available financial assistance (police academy tuition assistance and living expense stipends) to individuals from underrepresented populations who may be interested in obtaining their PA municipal police officer certification training under Act 120 in pursuit of a career in law enforcement.  Individuals receiving this direct training assistance would be required to work for an LEA for a minimum of 7 years or the assistance converts to a repayable loan.  The individual assistance portion of this initiative would be administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

Document #3

Description: Home Buying Assistance Program

This legislation would provide for a home buying assistance program to encourage police officers to plant roots in the communities they serve. The City of Chicago has had several similar programs available to public safety officers, such as police, firefighters and EMTs.

The program will provide for up to a $30,000 forgivable loan for closing costs on the purchase of a home within the jurisdiction in which officers are serving. It would require eligible applicants to be full-time, sworn officers in good standing within the municipality. It would also require the home purchased must be the officer’s primary residence for a period of at least 10 years before the loan can be forgiven. The legislation would additionally provide for a ten-year real estate tax abatement on a purchased property through the program.

Document #4

Introduced as SB391

Description: Background Check exceptions

Background checks often eliminate good police candidates who may have had a youthful indiscretion that disqualifies them from serving. This legislation would allow a candidate to apply for an exception from disqualification due to a conviction on their record. The hiring LEA would be able to investigate the details and nature of that conviction and could grant the exception if it sees fit.  Several states and local police jurisdictions have taken similar steps to reduce previous low-level criminal conviction barriers to entering police service