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Police mystery, post-Roe firewalls, and money Pitt

Plus, Amtrak's Keystone West service to double.

A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 28, 2022
Hard count, preemptive action, DA dispute, research stop, attorney fees, illegal evictions, and discount gasoline. It's Tuesday. Thanks for checking in.
The question was deceptively simple: How many law enforcement agencies are there in Pennsylvania?

But when Spotlight PA set out to provide a definitive tally, it unearthed large discrepancies with troubling implications instead.

What started as an attempt to pinpoint how many departments aren't enrolled in Pennsylvania's loophole-heavy police misconduct database quickly detoured into a sea of data gaps and numerical conflicts. 

And while that's obviously frustrating for journalists, reporters Emma Dooling and Danielle Ohl explain why it should worry readers, too.

THE CONTEXT: There are more than 1,100 law enforcement agencies enrolled to use the state database that's meant to help Pennsylvania departments flag potential hires with checkered backgrounds

To find the number of agencies not enrolled, Spotlight PA checked data and reports from national and state sources and found a wide range of estimates. While the numbers could ebb and flow as community needs change, the numbers weren't off by a little; the counts differed by hundreds.

Over eight days, Spotlight PA asked 10 people — including state and federal officials, academics, and lawmakers — this same question: How many law enforcement agencies are in Pennsylvania? None of them knew.

Spotlight PA has filed a public records request with the FBI for the bureau's most recent tally and is awaiting a response.

The stakes are clear: If the state doesn't know how many agencies employ people with the power to make an arrest or carry a gun, how can it hold them all accountable? And when agencies are overlooked by state and federal reporting, community members lose access to vital information.

"From a Senate perspective, we are still far apart." 

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) on budget talks that remain slow-moving with a June 30 deadline looming
California poppy and lavender reaching across the aisle, via @samanthasearsmusic in Clarion County. Send us your Pennsylvania pics, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
ABORTION LAWS: With the governor's race neck and neck and access to abortion in Pennsylvania largely hinging on the outcome, Pittsburgh's City Council is eyeing a preemptive bill that would "de-prioritize" police enforcement of any new state anti-abortion laws there, per City Paper, while Democrats in Harrisburg on Monday announced a long-shot attempt to codify Roe v. Wade protections into state law.

DA DISCRETION: As prosecutors in other states vow not to enforce abortion bans, progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is calling on his Pennsylvania counterparts to "use their discretion" to protect reproductive rights, via CBS3. In related news, GOP lawmakers leading a previously announced push to impeach Krasner now want a select committee to investigate the second-term DA

COLLEGE MONEY: State House Republicans on Monday successfully tied an amendment targeting Pitt's fetal tissue research — a conservative flashpoint before last week's Roe v. Wade ruling — to the budget bill for Pitt and three other state-related universities, the AP reports. An amendment tying Penn State's share of the money to intel on the exiled Paterno statue failed. The bill isn't a done deal yet.

ETHICS CHECK: GOP nominee for governor Doug Mastriano used $10,000 in campaign donations to pay for a lawyer to represent him before congressional J6 investigators. HuffPost reports the spending likely doesn't violate campaign finance laws but does raise ethical questions. In 2021, Mastriano used state Senate campaign funds to send supporters to the "Stop the Steal" rally that later fed the riot. 

EVICTION STATS: A survey of 6,000 Philadelphia renters has put new numbers to Philadelphia's eviction crisis. The data released by Community Legal Services and the Housing Initiative at Penn shows there are roughly 20,000 illegal evictions in Philadelphia each year, WHYY reports. The report also found that nearly 60% of the tenants surveyed were behind on rent, owing an average of $2,698 each.

TOXIC DELAY: U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) held up a bill that would expand benefits for U.S. veterans with toxic exposure injuries, drawing the ire of comedian and burn pit critic Jon Stewart, per The Military Times.

COMEBACK: The furry convention known as Anthrocon returns to Pittsburgh this month for the first time since 2019. It starts June 30 and includes a block party this year. Here's what it looked like last time, via KDKA.

DOUBLE TIME: Wawa plans to double its central Pennsylvania store count in the next three to five years, WGAL reports. The plan includes the addition of an outpost in East Pennsboro Township, currently Sheetz territory.

PRICE CUT: Speaking of Sheetz... The chain says it will lower gas prices to $3.99 through the July Fourth weekend, effective immediately, ABC 27 reports. The average price of regular gas in Pennsylvania is $4.95.

AMTRAK PLAN: Pennsylvania will spend $200 million in federal infrastructure law funding to add a second daily Amtrak train between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, TribLIVE reports. There is only one daily train now.

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.

This week's theme: The Great Outdoors
Yesterday's answer: Boondocking

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Ted M., Jill M., John A., Judith D., Vicki U., Hugh M., Bette G., Ted W., Mark O., Craig W., David S., Susan D., Bruce B., Karen W., Art W., Elizabeth W., Kimberly D., Irene R., Beth T., Don H., Susan N.-Z., Nancy S., Steve D., Barbara F., Jude M., James B., Beth L., Bill S., Dianne K., Wendy A., Fred H., Patricia M., Al M., Kim C., and John P.
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