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Public can’t access Pa.’s police misconduct data

Plus, merger of six Pa.-owned universities gets official go-ahead.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 15, 2021
Police tracker, audit exit, university merger, fake claims, solitary numbers, travel money, and burnt food worth driving for. It's Thursday, how about that? 
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Pennsylvania has launched a statewide police misconduct database that will house disciplinary actions, performance evaluations, and attendance records for officers.

Departments are required to consult the database during background checks under a state law passed one year ago, City & State reports.

The legislation was championed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis but called for years earlier after an officer with a checkered past fatally shot unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose II in East Pittsburgh, 90 minutes after that officer was first sworn in. 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro was in Pittsburgh on Wednesday to tout the new database and joined by Rose's mother, Democratic lawmakers, and Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert. 

"The public can have more trust in the people who are here to protect them," Shapiro said of the intended result. 

But it's blind faith, with the database itself being kept from public view. 
THE CONTEXT: The legislation that made the database a reality requires agencies to disclose information about any investigations into current or former officers in writing.

But the effort stops short of making misconduct records available to the public, a step taken in New Jersey and New York, with limits. 

Last year, Spotlight PA spoke to advocates who worried Pennsylvania's record-keeping would lack key metrics, namely race and ethnicity of the people police use force against

Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said this obscures if force is being "meted out disproportionately to certain groups." 
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

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"... it is vitally important to the continued viability of Allegheny County that we continuously strive to fully understand and resolve issues of racial and other inequity ..."

—A motion from two Allegheny County Council members urging local schools to include Critical Race Theory perspectives in their curriculums
VACCINE UPDATE: This is the last chance to enter Philly's COVID-19 vaccine sweepstakes. Anyone who receives a shot will be eligible for the city's final drawing next Monday, July 19. Prizes range from $1,000 to $50,000. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).

>> THE HIDDEN TAB: Join us Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A about Pennsylvania lawmakers spending millions of taxpayer dollars on personal accommodations, and how these expenses are obscured from the public. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

Some post-July 4 fireworks in Wrightsville. "I love this view of small town America," said Chris M. Thanks for sharing! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
RSVP NO: Tioga County tells Reuters it won't participate in a Trump-backed audit of Pennsylvania's last two elections after state officials, citing security risks, formally warned against it. USA Today's Capital Bureau says the chief architect of the partisan and hotly contested Arizona-style probe, Trump ally and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), called the warning a Democratic scare tactic.

MERGER PLAN: A controversial merger of six state-owned universities earned unanimous approval Wednesday from the State System of Higher Education’s Board of Governors. The plan will combine Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, and Mansfield universities in the northeast and California, Clarion, and Edinboro in the west. The Capital-Star calls it "the most transformative restructuring in the system's 38-year history."

FRAUD FLOOD: Pennsylvania's glitchy rollout of a new unemployment computer system brought filing headaches for claimants and new opportunities for scammers. WHYY looks at the missing technological component that enabled a "flood of fake claims," many reliant on personal information stolen long ago and still for sale on the dark web.

JAIL STATS: Nearly 300 people were held in isolation at Allegheny County Jail in June, according to a new report, the first released by the jail since primary voters made it a requirement in May. That's about one-sixth of the jail's population, per WESA. Local voters also backed curbing the practice, a policy set to take effect at the jail in December.

AIR FAIR: Westmoreland County commissioners aren't happy about the renewal of a restaurant lease at Arnold Palmer's namesake airport, saying needed revenue was left on the table and without their input. Two commissioners said local taxpayers give millions annually to the airport authority and see no benefit because most are "too poor to fly."
SOLAR FLARE: A solar panel farm could mean lights out for the famed Mahoning Drive-In, the open-air theater's owner explains in a six-minute video. Virgil Cardamone told the Morning Call that Greenskies Clean Energy LLC has applied for "zoning relief" that would allow it to raze the drive-in and install a solar generation system at the property.

WATER WORLD: It wasn't that long ago that Pittsburgh's riverfronts were industrial wastelands, or hell with the bottle cap off. WESA explains what happened to change that in 30 years and notes the road to aquatic redemption was often bumpy. There's still plenty of raw sewage to go around, FWIW.

SINK TEETH: Pennsylvania has some of the least fluoridated water in the country, coming in 42 out of 50 states, per the CDC. The state doesn't require it, and increased privatization of commonwealth water systems means the decision is often a financial one, as WHYY explains.

EXTRA HOT: When I burn the hot dogs it's yet another in a long line of disappointments shouldered by my family. When Jim's in West Mifflin does it, it's a culinary touchstone. City Paper confirms Jim's charred cheese dogs aren't classically beautiful, but they are super tasty.

OLD SCHOOL: This #ThrowbackThursday wouldn't be complete without a look at the "League of Their Own" shoot that transformed Pittsburgh's South Side into a living relic of the past, via the Post-Gazette. The 1940s-set Amazon adaptation is filming in the area this summer.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Outrageous

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Myles M., Mike B., Craig W., Becky C., Susan D., Jessica K., Michelle T., Barbara F., Patricia M., Doris T., Kevin H., Suzanne S., Irene R., Theodore W., Al M., Kim C., Don H., Elaine C., Maryjane E., Christine M., Alice B., Parker B., Jackie H., Karen W., Richard D., Dennis M., John A., Heidi B., George S., Daniel M., Diane P., Jill A., Mary Kay M., Marty M., Joel S., Tish M., Brandie K., Carol D., Dianne K., Elizabeth W., Yvette R., David W., Lance L., Bob R., and Patricia R.
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