The Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, which has spent months developing proposals for police reform, voted Thursday to recommend the state legislature pass laws with the potential to transform policing in Delaware.
The recommendations cover body cameras, training, public access to data, and police violence. Within hours, leaders of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus committed to working to pass such legislation in the coming weeks.
“We … know that a task force’s work is only worthwhile if those recommendations are turned into actions,” Caucus Chair Rep. Kendra Johnson (D-Bear) and Vice-Chair Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D-Wilmington) said in a joint statement.
The task force overwhelmingly voted to recommend proposals from its Use of Force subcommittee. These include tightening the justifications under state code for police to use deadly force, requiring all police to wear body cameras and establishing a uniform use of force policy for all police departments.
The task force will ask the General Assembly to set a higher bar for police killings to be considered “justified.” The modified use of force law the task force will recommend would apply an objective standard in judging whether an accused officer’s use of force was justified. The current statute relies on a subjective standard, and has not seen any law enforcement officer charged for killing a civilian since at least 2005.
The task force will also recommend the General Assembly expand the authority of a division within the state Department of Justice, so it can review police use of force cases in which civilians are injured but not killed. The Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust currently investigates all deadly police shootings to determine whether the officers involved should be charged.
The task force only narrowly voted to recommend changes to the state’s controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR), which shields police records, including internal investigations into misconduct, from public view. Several police representatives on the task force objected.
Lakeisha Nix, sister of Lymond Moses, who was killed by New Castle County police in January, was one of many members of the public to advocate change during the meeting. She argued LEOBOR only protects “bad apples.”
“LEOBOR doesn't protect good officers who have genuine compassion for the communities they serve,” she said. “It doesn't lessen the assumed risk of injury or damages in the line of duty.”
Civil rights and racial justice advocates have long called for LEOBOR to be modified or repealed.
Several members of the public also urged the task force to recommend police oversight in the form of local civilian review boards, with power to subpoena police testimony or records and to discipline officers.
“It’s time to do away with protecting the misconduct of police officers,” said Alma Scott, who identified herself as a Black resident of Wilmington. “I urge you to vote yes for the creation of independent community-based boards that can investigate police misconduct without interference from police unions.”
No recommendation approved by the subcommittee Thursday explicitly provides for civilian review boards, although the proposal to amend LEOBOR names “civilian oversight” as a key component. Another recommendation would create an “advisory council” to “engage and empower the community to identify problems and develop solutions and recommendations,” with the goal of building trust.
Another proposal the task force will recommend calls for universal and public data reporting by all Delaware police departments. The data would include arrests, police shootings, civilian injuries, officer injuries, as well as complaints against police and the demographics of the civilians who file them.
“We found, in terms of the review of data collection, that it is … inconsistent, fragmented and in some cases nonexistent in Delaware,” said Sherese Brewington-Carr of the Delaware Department of Labor, who chairs the task force’s Workforce Development subcommittee.
The only recommendation the task force did not approve was one supporting civil liability—without qualified immunity—for police officers who violate civilians’ constitutional rights.
Attorney General Kathy Jennings, several lawmakers and police representatives voted against it.
The task force did not consider all potential recommendations, and will finish with proposals from its Transparency & Accountability subcommittee at a future meeting. That subcommittee will propose a recommendation to create local civilian review boards.
“Taken together, these recommendations could have a transformative positive effect on law enforcement to ensure that it works for all residents, regardless of race, color or socioeconomic status,” said task force chair Rep. Frank Cooke (D-New Castle) in a statement Thursday afternoon. “I hope the General Assembly will take up these recommendations in the coming weeks.”
Recommendations approved by the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force:
- Amend Delaware’s use of force statute to establish a reasonable object standard.
- Establish a statewide standard use of force policy.
- Continue to review use of force policies to ensure uniformity and best practices.
- Require mandatory and universal use of body camera devices for all law enforcement.
- Expand the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust’s statutory authority of review.
- Standardize use of force reporting and establish data to include race.
- Establish a public database for substantiated use of force cases.
- Expand and invest in mental health supports.
- Continue to examine state response to individuals in crisis
- Expand de-escalation training for law enforcement officers.
- Develop a universal training unit and rebrand the Council on Police Training (COPT).
- Conduct a regional / national executive search for the director of the training unit.
- Assign a liaison from the Governor’s Office to law enforcement accountability matters.
- Conduct a review of all training curricula currently offered in COPT and affirm or make recommendations for training topics and content.
- Promote universal data reporting by all Delaware police departments, with colleges and universities required to report data as presented.
- Require police departments to solicit opinions and feedback from police and civilian personnel on an annual basis.
- Charge the Office of Management and Budget, the Statistical Analysis Center, or an objective third party with the creation of a report identifying and listing all local, federal, or private funding sources for law enforcement agencies in Delaware.
- Introduce and pass significant legislative amendments to LEOBOR to increase transparency and accountability; thus, improving trust in the community.
- Require a standardized data collection process, analysis, and publication for all enforcement agencies to improve the efficacy of equitable policing practices; thus, improving trust in the community.
- Create an Advisory Council to engage and empower the community to identify problems and develop solutions and recommendations; thus, building trusting in the community.
- Emphasize greater focus, reporting, and incentives for de-escalation and alternatives to arrests, when appropriate.
- Create a statewide body worn camera and video repository program with necessary funding from the State of Delaware.
- Develop a regular process to survey the community regarding public trust by an independent third party and report the information to the public.
- Increase positive engagement with the community and align performance measures and incentives with that goal.