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Some probation officers skip Pa. misconduct checks

Plus, DOJ eyes Pa. child welfare agency's AI tool.


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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Accountability gaps, Pennsylvania specials, controversial tech, power strip, political reaction, Groundhog Eve, and Black History Month begins.

At least three Pennsylvania counties are not checking new probation officers against a statewide police misconduct database or uploading current misconduct records, Spotlight PA has learned.

District courts in Cameron, Carbon, and Elk Counties have opted out of using the database based on guidance they received from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC). The omissions only further undermine the law that created the database to prevent job-hopping by bad cops.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Some Pa. courts are excluding probation officers from requirements under police misconduct law.

THE CONTEXT: A spokesperson said the AOPC was told by counsel for a Pennsylvania State Police commission tasked with implementing the program that participation by probation officers is voluntary.

But that interpretation appears to be at odds with the law, Act 57, and a State Police spokesperson supplied conflicting information.

Since its inception, the database — once lauded as a national model — has been riddled with loopholes that raise serious questions about its ability to flag potentially problematic officers before they're hired.

One such limitation was central to the July 2022 hiring by Tioga borough of the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice. 

Read more: Hire of Tamir Rice's killer tore apart Pa. borough.


"We will not shut off power to residential and small-business customers for non-payment through March 31. We are waiving all late fees in January and February. Any fees already charged in January will be credited..."

—PPL President Steph Raymond in a letter to customers concerning high electricity bills that have spurred an investigation by state regulators


HOW SPECIAL ELECTIONS WORK: Join us Thursday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on how special elections work, the results of the Feb. 7 election, and why they matter. This event is the first of our “How Harrisburg Works” series where we break down how the state legislature works (or doesn't). Register here and submit questions to

Pennsylvania Hall burning on May 17, 1838 in Philadelphia. The abolitionist meeting space was targeted by an anti-abolitionist mob and burned to the ground days after opening. Via the Library of Congress archives. We'll have more historical photos and images here throughout Black History Month.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.ELECTION RESULT: Seven-term Republican state Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver won Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania's reliably-red 27th state Senate District, which includes Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, and Snyder Counties, as well as a portion of Luzerne County. Culver will fill the seat vacated by former state Sen. John Gordner, setting up a special election for her state House seat.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.GAVEL GAZE: State Rep. Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) wants to stay House speaker after three Dem-leaning seats are filled in special elections next week, the AP reports. State Rep. Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) was the Democrats' first choice for the role before a GOP-engineered deal gave the rostrum to Rozzi. Some Dems have said her moment will come if the party gets its delayed majority.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.AI SCRUTINY: The AP reports that the U.S. Justice Department is scrutinizing a pioneering and critics say problematic artificial intelligence tool used by Allegheny County's child protective services agency. The tool's algorithm is designed to predict a family's risk level and guide follow-up investigations of child welfare calls, but some worry it could result in discrimination against families with disabilities.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.CITY STOP: A state-appointed receiver now has a court's permission to strip Chester officials of their administrative powers as both sides tussle over the city's bankruptcy declaration. According to WHYY: Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler said testimony of  mismanagement and unethical behavior in the Delaware County city convinced her the decision was "not only permissible, but necessary."

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.DEATH REPORTS: State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D., Montgomery) is floating a bill that would require all Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities to report the death of a person in custody to the state attorney general within 30 days. Failure to do so could mean misdemeanor charges or fines. PennLive found less than half of all deaths in county jails were reported in 2020.

HISTORY LESSONS: February is Black History Month, and Pennsylvania has taken steps in recent years to update its historical markers, adding context and removing or altering those with racist and outdated references. Spotlight PA wrote about changes to several markers in Fulton County.

POLITICAL REACTION: Capital-Star has video of state Sen. Mike Regan (R., York), a former U.S. Marshal, physically removing a protester seen blocking the doorway of a Harrisburg restaurant where a pricey fundraiser was held Tuesday on behalf of state Sen. Scott Martin (R., Lancaster).

ON STRIKE: Graduate student teaching and research assistants at Temple are on strike after more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations with the university around pay, health coverage, and paid leave.

GOING AWAY: Pittsburgh's best metal-themed vegan restaurant, Onion Maiden, is calling it quits, maybe, in March: "Could be a brief hiatus, could be the conclusion ... you will have two months to get your fill."

WEATHER ICONS: Tomorrow is Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania and Armadillo Day in Texas with Bee Cave Bob.

Unscramble and send your answer to We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Sarcastic

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Kevin M., Ted W., Susan D., Patty R., John P., Elaine C., Susan N.-Z., Barbara F., Myrna L. R., Eric F., Marty M., Jon W., Kimberly D., Jane R., Craig W., Dave P., Don H., Beth T., John F., Bruce B., Jason W., Stanley J., Adrien M., Susan R., James B., David W., Lewis Z., Daniel M., Dan S., Kim C., Dennis M., Nancy S., Tom O., William M., Irene R., Kathee M., Tish M., Bill S., Dianne K., Michael K., Wendy A., Harold V., Ada M., Dan A., Elizabeth W., William Z., Trudy W., and John H.
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