HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would make it a crime to flee a police officer who is trying to arrest them, and an additional crime if a police dog is hurt in the pursuit.
The bill passed, 36-14, with every Republican and seven of 21 Democrats supporting it. The bill goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The bill was introduced by northeastern Pennsylvania senators to commemorate a Scranton police officer, John Wilding, who died of a head injury in 2015 after jumping a fence and falling in pursuit of three 17-year-olds suspected of stealing a sport utility vehicle and attempting to rob a pedestrian at gunpoint.
The severity of the penalty for knowingly fleeing arrest rises based on the seriousness of the underlying crime. It also rises if someone — including a police officer — is hurt or killed in the pursuit. If someone dies, the penalty is a second-degree felony.
Someone fleeing a summary offense would face an additional summary charge if no one is injured in the pursuit.
Police groups support the legislation and backers said it would protect officers who often follow pursuits into life-threatening situations or suffer horrendous injuries in the process.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said the bill creates duplicative and unnecessary crimes and criminalizes the “legal and constitutional right to run from law enforcement.”
Such a law would likely be used to charge young Black men and other people of color who may be legally running from a police officer, the ACLU said in a statement.
The sponsor, Luzerne County Sen. John Yudichak called the ACLU’s position radical.
“It comes down to a simple question,” Yudichak, a registered independent who caucuses with Republicans, told colleagues during floor debate. “Do those who protect and serve our community like Officer Wilding have a right to have their lives protected by the law?”
On the police dog provision, Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, said the bill would unjustly force someone to allow themselves to be attacked by the dog — and possibly suffer irreversible and serious injuries — or face jail for fleeing.
That ignores the “brutal history of the use of dogs in attacking people of color and it makes this bill unconscionable,” Street said during floor debate.