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ACLU leader blasts Wilmington Mayor Williams over policing policies

Delaware Public Media

ACLU Delaware executive director Kathleen MacRae is accusing Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams of fostering a police force that’s excessively violent.

MacRae’s comments come on the heels of the state Justice Department declining to press charges against four city police officers involved in the shooting death of 28-year-old Jeremy McDole last year.

But the AGs office says the actions of one officer in particular, Senior Corporal Joseph Dellose, were out of line and that he should no longer be able to carry a gun.

McDole, who was wheelchair bound, was shot multiple times by the officers last September, with the AG’s office saying there are “serious deficiencies” in Wilmington PD’s training protocol.

“Leadership begins at the top and the mayor of the City of Wilmington is responsible for how the Wilmington Police Department operates," MacRae said.

She says ineffectual leadership trickles down to the police department, which has struggled to make much progress against staggering violence in the city’s streets over the past few years.

“Since it seems that the city does not think there are any problems in the Wilmington Police Department, we have to look to the people, to the voters.”

The ACLU doesn’t endorse a particular candidate or party, MacRae notes, but says people wanting change on the streets need to vote. Williams faces seven challengers in the September Democratic primary.

Williams himself is a veteran of the Wilmington Police Department and frequently defends the agency. He has strongly resisted shaking up the department, promoting veteran insiders to leadership positions.

He has also clashed with City Council over implementing recommendations offered last year by the state's Wilmington Public Safety Strategies Commission, which included top national law enforcement consultants.

Police Chief Bobby Cummings says most of the commission's recommendations have been or are in the process of being implemented.  One of the biggest, a real time crime center, went into operation Monday.

But a $1.5 million grant from state lawmakers to help boost police patrols sat stagnant for months, while Williams refused to provide officer deployment and crime data as a precondition.

Alexandra Coppadge, a spokeswoman for Williams, says Wilmington Police Department's policies and procedures are reviewed every three years for national accreditation.

“The Wilmington Police Department will continue to work with the community to build strong relationships, which are the foundation for safe and strong communities throughout our City," Coppadge said.

In a blog post Monday, the ACLU said, "[Wilmington Police Department] must do more to ensure that officers do not act out of racial bias and are disciplined when they do so. Any officer who demonstrates a pattern of using excessive force must be removed from the police force."

MacRae and others continue to push for policing reforms and they’re not ruling out appealing to the federal Justice Department to investigate the city’s policing practices – and potentially establish new ones through a settlement.

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