New police reform measures coming to General Assembly
Legislation seeking to reform the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) and use of force policies is introduced in the Delaware Senate.
The goal of the three bills is to increase police accountability and transparency.
The Officers’ Bill of Rights legislation introduced by State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman (D-Wilmington) would make police misconduct records publicly accessible for the first time in 25 years.
It would also allow any state agency, county or municipality operating a law enforcement agency to empower a community review board to hear and decide law-enforcement disciplinary matters.
Lockman admits there will be lots of discussion with law enforcement officials and their advocates about community review boards.
"We're going to have to talk it out, and it's going to be, you know, some hard conversations," said Lockman. "So I'm hopeful that we can come to some common place on the utility of community review boards. It's something that I know that my constituents are very committed to, and I hope that we can come to an understanding."
Advocates like the ACLU of Delaware are eager to take part in those conversations.
“Under Delaware’s current Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) statute, the public is not guaranteed any transparency in any police-involved incident, making public access to police investigations nearly impossible. LEOBOR also prevents community-led groups, such as community oversight boards, from effectively reviewing, investigating, and disciplining officers in misconduct cases," said Haneef Salaam, ACLU of Delaware’s Campaign for Smart Justice manager. "That’s why we recommended changes to LEOBOR that will address these critical issues, and we’re glad to see those recommendations incorporated into Senator Lockman’s SB 149.”
Gov. Carney was asked on Monday during an appearance Delaware Public Media about the addressing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, and specifically if he feelsit shields police officers too much and does it hinder transparency?
"With respect to that issue with the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, you know the devil really is in the details, and when you think about it ordinary government employees get a certain amount of protection from lawsuits given the work that they do in public and a certain immunity," said Carney. "And I don't pretend to be an expert with respect to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, so my hope is that folks look at it carefully to make sure that it strikes the right balance."
State Sen. Marie Pinkney’s (D-New Castle) two use of force bills would create the first objective use of force standard for police officers statewide and expand use of force cases subject to Dept. of Justice review.
“We need a higher standard for the use of force than to simply allow the officer in question to fall back on the magic words, ‘I believed.', " said Pinkney. "At the bare minimum, our courts have to be empowered to ask whether a police officer’s belief is justified or just an excuse without rationale.”
Javonne Rich, ACLU of Delaware’s policy advocate agrees.
“People in all communities should be able to live their lives without having to fear violence at the hands of police. Currently, Delaware’s use of force law is written so broadly that an officer could, theoretically, use force in almost any situation as long as they believe they might be in danger — whether or not they actually are," said Rich. "We need systemic change to reprogram officers’ behavior so that they respond to situations in a way that protects human life, and Senator Pinkney’s bills, SB 147 and 148, are two good first steps in that direction.”
Lockman says these bills have essentially been in the works since the murder of George Floyd a year ago.
"We began to talk about police reform. We certainly began to talk about disparities for Black Americans and Black Delawareans, and what we could do and the part that we can play as legislators to get us to a healthier place," said Lockman. "While a lot of that probably occurred where you know it hasn't been immediately publicly evident, those conversations have been absolutely ongoing throughout that time."
All three bills have Attorney General Kathy Jennings’s support, and now head to the Senate Judiciary Committee.