Subcommittee members named for group tasked with recommending police reform
The task force meant to shape police reform in Delaware announced the members of its subcommittees this week. Some members still think meaningful change will be an uphill battle.
Delaware’s General Assembly created the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force after protests across the country and in Delaware drew attention to police brutality, particularly against Black Americans.
The task force itself is mostly made up of government officials, lawmakers and law enforcement representatives. More civilians and advocates were expected to have a hand in crafting recommendations for police reform through its four subcommittees. Those appointments were announced Thursday.
When the task force met for the first time last week, members like Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes were confused about how civilians, officials and advocates were being chosen to sit on the subcommittees.
“Is there a method that taskforce members should use to suggest or ask to be placed on a committee?” Hughes asked. “It just seems that these decisions are being made by some staff members.”
The subcommittees will focus on use of force, transparency, workforce development and community policing. State Rep. Frank Cooke, a former police officer who chairs the task force, says the subcommittees are where the real work of examining police reform will be done.
The majority of the subcommittee appointments are representatives from established nonprofits, government officials and law enforcement.
Haneef Salaam of the Wilmington HOPE Commission is one of just a few formerly incarcerated individuals on the subcommittees. He sees the appointments as tilted toward police and government officials.
“It is going to take a lot of work in my opinion convincing a lot of the people on the taskforce of some of the reforms that need to take place, because we need to change the entire policing system,” he said.
Salaam sits on the Transparency and Accountability subcommittee. He hopes the task force develops a community policing plan for departments that would guide officers in truly getting to know the people they police. Salaam also wants to see the Operation Safe Streets/ Governor’s Task Force, which targets high-risk probationers to enforce compliance with curfews and other probation conditions, eliminated.
University of Delaware professor Yasser Payne has worked closely with Wilmington residents in his research on gun violence. He’s on the Community Policing subcommittee and says he hopes to hold other members accountable.
“My role and a number of other folk, we’re going to make sure that we can do everything we can to move the ball forward,” he said. “Because we’ve got to report back to the neighborhood. That’s our constituency.”
Payne hopes the task force talks about defunding police and lowering the standard for prosecuting officers who use excessive force— but he says he maintains a “healthy skepticism.”
“We’re going to take three steps forward and two steps back,” he said. “I don’t know if fight is the right word, but it’s going to be some real work trying to create real change as it relates to law enforcement in Delaware.”
Cooke says the subcommittees will review things such as department hiring policies and look at the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. He says specific subcommittee agendas will be set by the chairs and vice chairs.
Cooke maintains members of the public not appointed to subcommittees can still recommend reforms during public meetings.
“They can have their voice heard freely when we have the open forum,” he said.
But Salaam says lack of representation on subcommittees sends a message.
“Although people aren’t on subcommittees, he still wants them to participate, which kind of is hard for the community at times, because if you don’t name me on a committee or as part of the task force, I feel left out or I feel like my words won’t be taken as seriously,” Salaam said.
The task force is expected to report back to the General Assembly with recommendations by the end of the year.