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‘It’s personal’ says lawmaker spearheading police safety effort

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(The Center Square) – After losing four law enforcement officers in the line of duty so far this year, lawmakers across the aisle say the state can do more to bolster police safety.

Rep. Amen Brown, D-Philadelphia, recently spearheaded an effort called Fitzgerald’s Law. The package of bills continues winding through the legislative process, though some have advanced further than others.

Rep. Amen Brown, D-Philadelphia, told the Center Square it is personal to him. His family is “heavy in law enforcement,” and his cousin Christopher Fitzgerald – for whom the package of bills is named – was slain while on duty at Temple University in February.

Amen said a conversation at the funeral home with Fitzgerald’s father Joel – a former police chief who has served in several cities – regarding what lawmakers could do to “protect the ones that protect us” influenced four bills “based on proven methods.”.

House Bill 1296 would require officers to be accompanied by a partner whenever working in a critical crime area, as defined by the attorney general. The House passed it last month 154-49, and Brown noted it was one of the first bills approved unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee.

It has since advanced to the Senate Law and Justice Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg.

Bruce McLanahan, Regan’s chief of staff, told The Center Square the senator served 23 years in the U.S. Marshal Service and has been a champion for law enforcement. He said Brown’s bill highlighting the need for officer safety has been a hallmark of Regan’s legislative agenda over the last couple of years.

He said putting officers on the street without a partner in areas like Philadelphia – where the murder rate has been out of control – has led to tragedy. Their plan is to work with law enforcement to pass legislation that keeps our officers “as safe as they can be.”

The other three bills are still working their way through the House.

House Bill 1297 would require officers to wear non-expired Level IIIA body armor to better protect them.

House Bill 1298 would create a grant program for municipalities to install audible gunshot detection technology in high-crime areas. The technology helps alert law enforcement when shots are fired, leading to faster response times.

House Bill 1299 would authorize the use of technology that facilitates the review of video data to expedite investigations of incidents involving serious bodily injuries.

Brown said although HB 1297 passed through several committees unanimously, it got hung up after certain municipalities said they couldn’t afford it. He cited a federal program that reimburses up to 50% on equipment.

So the argument “‘we can’t afford it,’ is BS,” Amen said. He also noted that there are several agencies and municipalities that are not taking advantage of it.

Requiring heavier body armor also concerns some, Amen said, despite its ability to stop knife strikes, stabs, and almost a dozen types of firearm rounds. Current equipment “barely stops a 9mm,” he said.

“I represent a district where violence is out of control…I am pro-law enforcement and pro-community,” he said. “Why not come up with some fair legislation that’s going to help all people?”

“I’ve spoken to enough cops and agencies across the state to know I’m doing the right thing,” he said, adding that anyone working against it “is gonna look real crazy that you don’t want to protect your people.”

McLanahan said they commend Brown’s efforts and are “excited to work with him to make sure that these guys and ladies are protected.”

“He’s certainly doing his part in trying to improve the safety of Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians,” he said.

The proposals are just some of many on hold as the legislature remains adjourned until September. Barring a breakthrough in budget negotiations, all bills – no matter how popular – will wait until the fall.

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