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Delaware AG wants to adopt New Jersey’s police use of force policy

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

A task force looking at potential policing reforms meets later this week to discuss recommendations from its subcommittees, including a statewide use of force standard.

Among the policing reforms state Attorney General Kathy Jennings is pushing for is a minimum use of force standard for all law enforcement agencies in Delaware to follow. 

New Jersey has one—and revised it last year after the police murder of George Floyd. 

Jennings says she’d like to see that policy implemented in Delaware. 

“It is A++,” she said. “It pretty much prevents police-involved shootings at moving vehicles, and comes up with a really robust policy about that. There are things that if we change it will have a dramatic impact.”

New Jersey’s new policy, which goes into effect at the end of this year, specifies that shooting at a moving vehicle is risky and generally not effective at bringing the vehicle to a rapid stop. It says police must “make every effort” to get out of a moving vehicle's path.

“Officers shall never intentionally position themselves in the path of a moving vehicle or a vehicle that is likely to move,” the policy reads. “Officers shall not grab onto moving vehicles or the drivers or occupants of moving vehicles. If a vehicle begins to move while an officer is engaged with the driver or an occupant, the officer shall, if feasible, disengage from the contact.”

Jennings says Delaware doesn't need to "reinvent the wheel."

“The Attorney General in New Jersey spent years meeting with community groups, meeting with police experts, meeting with police unions and police chiefs and came up with a policy that is workable and effective for the 38,000 police officers in New Jersey who abide by it,” she said.

Delaware State University law and criminal justice professor Kimeu Boynton says if Delaware had New Jersey’s policy in place, it wouldn’t necessarily have changed the outcome of a fatal New Castle County police shooting of a driverin Wilmington early this year, but it may have helped. 

“I think if you have a more specific policy, it’s going to create more awareness of what these situations should look like,” Boynton said. “You’re really spelling things out a little more clearly versus telling someone, don’t shoot into a moving vehicle unless it’s a matter of imminent danger.”

A police press release hours after his shooting claimed Lymond Moses drove “at a high rate of speed directly at the officers.” Body camera footage released publicly months later appears to show him driving around—not at—an officer, as two officers open fire. 

New Castle County’s use of force policy does say officers should only shoot at a moving vehicle as a last resort, and should make every effort to not put themselves in a moving vehicle’s path. But New Jersey’s policy is more detailed. 

DOJ’s investigation into whether County officers were justified in shooting Lymond Moses is ongoing. Boynton says the outcome may hinge on whether the officers believed a third officer on the scene was in danger.

The state Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force meets Thursday to discuss which of its subcommittees’ reform proposals it will include in a final list of policy recommendations to state lawmakers. 

The Use of Force & Imminent Danger Subcommittee’s recommendations to the task force include establishing a statewide standard use of force policy that includes provisions for de-escalation and duty intervene in, and report, any law enforcement use of force violations.

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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