SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $1 for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $1 for 3 months

Franklin County's District Attorney envisions a new kind of police force with reforms

Carley Bonk
Chambersburg Public Opinion

If there's one thing District Attorney Matt Fogal wants citizens to know in the wake of protests across the country calling for law enforcement reform, it's that change has been - and continues to be - made in Franklin County. 

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis had an effect on Fogal - he wanted to do more to prevent such tragedies from occurring close to home.

In June, Fogal met individually with each chief of police in the county, as well as the commander of the Pennsylvania State Police and Chambersburg Station. He assembled a special meeting with the chiefs and the local state police commander, where attendees discussed issues related to race and police reform being discussed nationally, and what more could be done locally.

Fogal also attended the Juneteenth Love Demonstration on June 20 and has continued to "meaningfully engage" concerned community members, according to a press release.

Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal is pictured with Marvin Worthy and Linda Thomas Worthy and their daughter at the Juneteenth Love Demonstration on June 20 in downtown Chambersburg.

On Sept. 18, all personnel in the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office participated in mandatory virtual Implicit Bias Training, also attended by the Director of Human Resources and a Judge from the Common Pleas Court.

On Oct. 15, the District Attorney's office, in concert with the Franklin County Commissioners and Franklin County’s Grants Management Department, submitted an application for the Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program federal grant.

"We are hopeful that our application is approved, which would then finally allow us to finance body-worn cameras and storage capacity for participating municipal police departments in Franklin County, along with the detectives who work directly for the District Attorney’s Office," Fogal said.

Continuing the theme of accountability, the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office formally adopted an additional "best practice” for prosecutors on Nov. 9 titled, “Reporting of Observations of Police Misconduct Policy.” The policy requires prosecutors to promptly report any police misconduct they may observe from reports, video footage, etc.

Culminating the changes local law enforcement has made throughout the past year alone, Fogal has announced an updated outline of the Policies and Procedures for the Franklin County Bureau of Detectives.

Applicants to the Franklin County Bureau of Detectives must not only meet the current certification requirements of Pennsylvania’s Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission but also requirements beyond that: they must be at least 25 years of age, possess a bachelor’s degree, have at least five years of experience as a law enforcement officer, and successfully pass numerous mental and physical screenings and tests with a thorough background investigation (including queries for prior acts of misconduct when previously employed as a law enforcement officer).

Perhaps one of the most timely provisions within the Franklin County Bureau of Detectives' policies is the section addressing the Use of Force. The office has officially banned choke-holds or any form of neck-holds, reiterated that “No-Knock” warrants are not permitted in Pennsylvania, banned the discharge of a firearm at a moving vehicle, issues less-lethal weapons such as “Tasers” and OC spray, instituted a de-escalation and a “last resort” policy related to deadly force and more.

Additionally, Fogal stated that military-style uniforms are not permitted, nor are military-style tactical vehicles.

"As explained within the Mission Statement and Guardian Oath, law enforcement officers in the United States of America are not an occupying force, nor are they 'warriors,'" he said. "There should be absolutely no confusion from within or without regarding that."

As a preventive measure, the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office is partnering with Greencastle Family Practice to provide targeted counseling and therapy to personnel, to ensure their health and also to benefit the citizens with which they interact, the policies outlined. 

"Wellness and emotional safety for FCBD personnel will be particularly emphasized, given the unique stressors, dangers and exposures related to the job," Fogal said.

"Change is part of the human experience and is not intrinsically bad; introspection should never be resisted or devalued," he wrote in a press release. "That is patently ignorant, for it is not a defeat or surrender for 'the way it was,' but an opportunity for the future. Let there be no misunderstanding: the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office has consistently strived to always do the next best thing to serve this community."

The 2,500-word press release detailed Fogal's initiatives and visions for modern-day law enforcement. 

Demonstrators hold signs and chant during a protest for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality at the King Street Gazebo in Shippensburg on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.

Fogal outlined 11 initiatives the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office has already been implemented over the past five years.

Implicit Bias Training was instituted in 2017 and is considered mandatory for all DA staff.

Crisis Intervention Team “De-Escalation” Training provides week-long intensive training to law enforcement officers, involving responses to incidents/calls for individuals with mental health issues, working with a global “team” of mental health professionals. The Co-Responder Initiative was put in place for mental health professionals to accompany law enforcement officers to incidents/calls involving individuals with mental health issues. Such cases are ‘diverted’ into mental health treatment rather than the criminal justice process. 

To keep officers accountable, a number of policy changes have been implemented, including: 

  1. Recorded Interview Protocol: in accordance with scientific best practices and to foster public confidence, requires interviews of suspects and witnesses to be audio/video-recorded rather than simply summarized in a report by the law enforcement officer.
  2. Giglio Protocol: implements a local process for disclosure of police prior misconduct to defense counsel in cases where they may be called as witnesses, and ongoing maintenance of a list of such officers, as required by the Giglio case (implemented February 2020).
  3. Body-Worn Camera Protocol: while not yet implemented due to financial constraints and the substantial costs of the necessary storage capacity, the procedures have been in place to incorporate body-worn cameras for all law enforcement personnel.

More:Hundreds sign letter supporting Franklin County D.A., Black Lives Matter after GOP censure

More:Drug overdoses declined last year, but there's still a lot of work to do, DA says

Franklin County law enforcement has been proactive in the creation of social programs to offer criminal offenders and victims unique resources for treatment, including a Recovery Liaison assisting law enforcement with overdoses, the Good Wolf Treatment Court that offers recovery from substance abuse instead of incarceration, a Prescription Drug Take Back program to keep drugs off the street and more.

These initiatives weren't exclusively implemented in the District Attorney's Office, but collaboratively with law enforcement county-wide, according to Fogal.

"All were Franklin County District Attorney initiatives and/or partnerships which were championed in collaboration with our local law enforcement agencies and all of our community partners and supporters, with a 'One Team, One Fight' spirit," Fogal said. 

Fogal does recognize that these changes aren't complete - law enforcement continues to have work to do to better engage with the communities they serve and to rebuild the trust that has been lost.

"Law enforcement will continue to adapt and embrace change," he said "This profession, and the bigger concept of criminal justice is comprised of humans and will therefore be imperfect. But. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Read the full press release here: https://franklincountypa.gov/ckeditorfiles/files/District%20Attorney/Press%20Release,%20Deeds%20Not%20Words,%2012_2_20.pdf

Carley Bonk is a Watchdog Reporter for the USA Today Network - Pennsylvania. Her coverage spans across the southcentral region of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at cbonk@publicopinionnews.com or on Twitter at @carls_marie.