HARRISBURG, Pa. — Harrisburg's City Council is considering a bill to create a Citizens Law Enforcement Advisory Committee, in an effort to hold police more accountable and improve relations between the public and police.
Bill 8 was partially inspired by Black Lives Matter protests held in Harrisburg earlier in the summer that called for police reform. However City Council visited this idea before; they introduced a similar bill in 2016 that ultimately did not come up for a vote.
"We're trying to make sure that this comes up for a vote and that we really get something on the books that gets the job done," said Ausha Green, the City Council public safety chair, at a virtual city council meeting held Thursday evening.
The committee proposed in Bill 8 would have seven volunteer members, with each living in a different police district. Three members would be appointed by the mayor and four would be appointed by City Council.
Members would be required to have lived in Harrisburg for at least a year, and to take a police ride-along or police orientation once a year.
The bill would currently give the committee access to some police records, as well as the ability to make recommendations to city government on how to improve police policies.
At the City Council meeting, several residents said the current bill doesn't give the committee enough enforceable power.
"Verbiage like 'recommendations' and 'as needed' read to me that this body would only have access to what the police department is willing to share, and it wouldn't have any decision making or enforcement authority," said Harrisburg resident Amanda Arbour.
People who spoke in the meeting repeatedly brought up three components they want the committee to have: subpoena power, independent investigations and more access to police records.
"How can we write this bill so that the residents have the right and authority to hold the police accountable for their actions?" asked Harrisburg resident Liam Hickman. "Because that's really what we're asking for."
City Council members said they wanted the community's input to be a major factor in shaping the bill, which is likely to become law if passed.
"[Mayor Eric Papenfuse] said he'll sign anything that we send down, so it's incumbent upon us to work together," said City Councilman Wes Majors.
Community members will also have the chance to speak at another virtual meeting on Aug. 11 and at an in-person meeting on Aug. 18.