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Delaware elected officials plan to listen, make change on police use of force

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
A sign placed on the property of the Wilmington police station during a Saturday's protest

Elected officials in Delaware say they are listening to the pain and anger over racial injustice expressed through this past weekend’s protests. Some hope to change oversight on use of force by police. 

Delaware’s junior senator plans to take the concerns of Delawareans to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on community-police relations.

Chris Coons said he listened to the thoughts of religious leaders and youth activists at a meeting in Southbridge, Wilmington Sunday — following a day of peaceful protest in the city that turned destructive Saturday night. 

“What I’ve heard is a lot of anger and concern about policing and in particular about longer-term issues that have to do with opportunity, education, healthcare,” he said. “Ways in which we are far from an equal society or a society of equal opportunity.”

Coons added he is developing a bill to introduce in the Senate this week to change some federal statutes around how police conduct is investigated.

“I do think federally the Department of Justice needs to be far more active in investigating incidents like the one that led to the tragic killing of George Floyd,” he said. “The federal government and the Department of Justice have tools to engage that they just have not been using in the last few years.”

Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings sees the protests as a “watershed moment.”

“We can’t throw up defenses, and we can’t close our minds and hearts because there was some violence involved,” she said. “Because I just think the bigger story is, now is the time, and we have to do the really hard work of change.”

Jennings said the Department of Justice plans to announce specific changes “directly relevant” to the messages of the protests soon.

But Jennings said Monday she is working with police chiefs to develop state-wide use of force policies — and expand the ability of the newly independent Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust to investigate unlawful use of force. 

Jennings also told Sen. Darius Brown during a question and answer session broadcast over Facebook Live Monday night she advocates for taking a “fresh look” at the state law on  use of force by law enforcement.  

And she added she wants to see all police agencies in the state using body-worn cameras. “They should be ubiquitous,” she said. “They should be everywhere.”

The Wilmington Police Department does not use body cameras. 

Members of Wilmington City Council and the Mayor’s office have disagreed on how a body camera program, which police say would cost more than a million dollars the first year, should be funded. City Council recently authorizedthe police department to apply for a federal grant that would fund part of the program. The department failed to secure the grant last year.

Jennings says she’s committed to continue listening in the wake of the protests. “We need to make sure that we’re listening with open hearts at the level of anger and despair that I’m hearing.”

She said the changes that result have to be “ones that matter.”


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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