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New proposal in Pa. state House would improve protections for police officers

Package of bills aims to protect law enforcement
Package of bills aims to protect law enforcement 02:24

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - A state representative is planning to introduce a handful of bills in hopes of creating more protections for police officers across Pennsylvania.

Three police officers have been killed in the line of duty in Pennsylvania this year.

"We have to constantly have our head on a swivel for what might be happening around us," said Shaler Township Police Chief Sean Frank.

Frank said it has been a trying time for all law enforcement in the Pittsburgh area.

Brackenridge Police Chief Justin McIntire was killed in an ambush attack in January and McKeesport officer Sean Sluganski was shot to death last month.

On the other side of the state, Temple University officer Christopher Fitzgerald was killed in the line of duty last month. 

About a week after officer Fitzgerald's death, Rep. Amen Brown (D-Philadelphia) announced he's getting ready to introduce a package of bills aimed at better protecting police officers in the state from violence.

"I think the discussion is great. I think the ideas sound good on paper, however, in the real world with the things that are listed, I think one of the four has some funding attached to it. All the others are unfunded, so I think that's going to be a very difficult task for municipalities and cities to overcome," said Frank.

The first bill would require officers to be with a partner in high-crime areas.

Frank said he believes that would improve safety, but it would be a challenge.

"Most departments, if not all departments, are struggling with manpower issues and hiring," he said.

The next bill would require officers to wear level IIIA body armor, which would better protect them from firearms.

Frank's officers wear level IIA vests; he said they cost around $1,2000 and only last a few years.

"There is a federal grant that we have for the vests but that still means the municipality has to come up with the other half. Some obviously can do it easier than others. Vests have a five-year shelf life," he said.

One bill would provide funding to install gunshot detection technology where there's high rates of gun violence. Pittsburgh Bureau of Police already utilizes ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system, for example.

The last bill would authorize the use of technology that facilitates the review of video data to speed up investigations.

Frank said these potential bills create an important discussion. He hopes it will roll into something they can find funding for and help with officer recruitment.

"We all have families, so that's the most concerning thing, that when officers come to work, you want to make sure they get home to their families at the end of their shift, so that's what's most important on all chiefs' and municipalities' minds," said Frank.

Other local police chiefs told KDKA-TV's Jessica Guay they are interested in learning more about these bills.

KDKA-TV reached out to local FOP leaders for their thoughts.

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