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New Castle County police reforms seen as 'first step' pass unanimously

New Castle County Police Department

New Castle County Council unanimously passed two police reforms Tuesday night after delaying them earlier this month. Many described the measures as just the beginning. 

One ordinance bans the use of chokeholds by New Castle County police —except when an officer decides deadly force is necessary. The second requires officers to try to intervene when another uses excessive force, or face punishment as if they used excessive force themselves. Between Tuesday’s meeting and the previous one, primary sponsor Councilman Dave Carter modified the ordinances to clarify language and add training for use of chokeholds.

Carter said the tweaks were made in consultation with New Castle County Police Chief Col. Vaughn Bond, Jr. Carter mentioned during an interview last week that in the course of discussions, he modified the original duty-to-intervene draft to prevent punishment of officers who make a “good faith effort” but are unsuccessful in stopping excessive force. 

Despite getting a say in crafting the ordinances, Bond commented at length during Tuesday’s meeting and characterized the chokehold ban as unnecessary.

“We have made it an offense that if an officer has applied a chokehold … and it was not a deadly force situation … for the first offense that officer could be facing suspension up to dismissal,” he said. 

Councilman Penrose Hollins bristled at Bond’s comments. 

“We are a legislative body,” said Hollins. “We are not cops. We’re not part of the FOP. So they can deal with the policies and procedures that they claim to be so great, and we deal with laws.”

Hollins also worried the issue was becoming “personalized,” as other council members praised the quality of New Castle County police. He argued the issue is about the foundational racism of American policing.

“No one should be afraid that the police is going to beat them up because of the color of their skin, and that’s exactly what’s going on, and everybody knows it,” he said. “Delaware is part of these United States of America, and New Castle County is a part of Delaware. There’s nothing so privileged and great about Delaware.”

Bond’s involvement in the legislation bothered community organizer and Wilmington City Council candidate Coby Owens.

“I am very concerned about who you talked to about this and why it wasn’t brought to the community to talk about, because we have a lot of proposals,” said Owens. “If you want to get to the true root of police brutality, you have to be able to take it on. You can’t buck because you get scared of the police force.”

Owens also took issue with the substance of the chokeholds ban. 

“For me and for a lot of Black people throughout the County, we do not trust the process of, you know what, we’re going to change something — we’re going to give them the ability to use this if it’s justified,” he said. “No, it should be banned flat out.”  

The ordinances passed Council with no opposition.


Mike Brickner of the ACLU of Delaware called them "preliminary commonsense changes that need to happen."


"Really the key to establishing good police relations is trust," he said. "And what we're hearing right now is that a lot of folks in the community don't trust policing right now. And that's going to take a very long time and a lot of hard work to undo, but these ordinances are I think concrete steps to helping to build that."

Carter himself conceded the reform measures were not perfect, but said he sees them as a step in the right direction.

Ordinances have been introduced that would redirect funds from the New Castle County police salaries and benefits budget toward community initiatives supporting racial justice— and that would limit the release of information about arrested juveniles, including mugshots.

Council does not meet again until late August.


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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