Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg council vows reform to help prevent police misconduct, abuse

Members of Harrisburg City Council knelt in silence for nine minutes today outside of city hall. From left: Danielle Bowers, Shamaine Daniels, Ausha Green, President Wanda Williams, Ben Allatt and Dave Madsen.

City Council plans to take substantive action to prevent potential police misconduct in Harrisburg, officials said today.

Council member Ausha Green, chair of the council’s public safety committee, vowed to introduce legislation that would help prevent potential abuse and that would enhance civilian oversight.

“Our communities have suffered,” she said. “They’ve suffered long enough.”

Green spoke following nine minutes of silence by six members of city council, most spent kneeling, out of respect for George Floyd, the Minneapolis man killed last week in the custody of that city’s police, and in support of recent protests for equal rights and black lives.

Green said that she was considering various types of legislation to reform police use-of-force policy. This might include a ban on chokeholds and mandate the explicit approval of the police commissioner before the use of tear gas during demonstrations.

“You’ll see legislation to fight against police brutality,” she said. “We need to have accountability on the part of our police and our community leaders.”

In the recent past, council also has discussed forming a citizen’s advisory board and more community policing efforts. Green said that she would consider both of these measures, as well.

In part, the city’s past community policing efforts have been hobbled by budget constraints and by its inability to retain trained officers. Green said she would like to see more Harrisburg residents, especially people of color, recruited into the city’s police force.

Council would need to ensure that any legislation does not violate existing police labor contracts, Green said. This issue has hobbled reform attempts in many cities in recent years.

Green emphasized two other points.

First, she said that the city needs the cooperation of the Capitol police and the state police, since they’re often used for crowd control and for backup in Harrisburg. In fact, she said, it was the state, not city police, that used pepper spray during a clash between police and protesters last Saturday.

Secondly, she noted that she regarded the proposed reforms as mostly precautionary since the Harrisburg police and the community, she said, tend to have a good relationship.

“At the end of the day, we all want the same thing,” she said. “We want a safe community.”

Continue Reading