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New Castle County Council delays chokehold ban and other police reform

New Castle County Police Department

New Castle County Council delayed voting on two proposed police reforms Tuesday. 

New Castle County Councilman Dave Carter tabled ordinances that would ban the use of knee and choke holds by county police and require officers to intervene if another uses excessive force.

Carter said he plans to tweak the legislation to square it with recent police directives issued by County Police chief Col. Vaughn Bond, Jr. 

“The substantive content we have worked out with the Colonel to have put into police directives,” said Carter. “I would like to be as consistent with those — since we’ve worked out most of those differences, one or two more we’ll work out.”

But Councilman Jea Street, Sr., who co-sponsored the original ordinances, says he won’t sponsor the substitutes.

“I appreciate the sincere effort that Councilman Carter’s made to work something out with the police chief,” he said. “But from my end, it defeats the purpose.”

Councilman Penrose Hollins, another co-sponsor, echoed Street’s concern, but says he will see the ordinances through. 

“I certainly have no illusion what’s going to happen with these two ordinances two weeks from now,” he said. “In my opinion it’s highly unlikely they would get adopted by the New Castle County Council.”

Street said the real problem enabling police brutality is Delaware’s use of force statutes and the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights — a portion of state code that keeps internal investigations into police misconduct hidden from the public. Hollins cited the police unions.

Several members of the public supported the original ordinances Tuesday. 

Adriana Bohm, a mother of two teenagers in Wilmington and a member of the Red Clay school board, said she believes in the spirit and intent of both ordinances. 

“From my perspective, these ordinances are a first step in protecting people, especially our youth such as Roger Brown,” she said. 

Mike Matthews, former president of the Delaware State Education Association, enthusiastically supported them. 

“It is not anti-law enforcement,” he said. “It is pro-law enforcement accountability. I am a teacher. You will never see a teachers’ union pushing back as violently as the police unions have if a teacher causes harm to a student.”

The county police union has expressed concern over the ordinances. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President Jonathon Yard said during a Council meeting last month that the language of the chokeholds ordinance would cause uncertainty.

“We are in favor of banning these things and holding us more accountable when it comes to the use of force and intervening,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of confusion moving forward with these bills and ordinances because we’re going to have all different terminologies.”

The General Assembly passed legislation last month making use of a chokehold by a law enforcement officer a Class D felony, except in cases where deadly force is necessary. Gov. John Carney also signed an executive order banning chokeholds by state law enforcement agencies, such as Delaware State Police, Capitol Police and the Department of Correction. 


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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