Police reform campaign in Delaware launched to pressure General Assembly
As lawmakers have stalled on promised changes to policing, advocates are launching a campaign in hopes to expedite the process in Delaware.
A group of left-leaning political organizations launched a campaign Wednesday to pressure the General Assembly to pass police reform laws that activists and protesters have called for since last summer.
"We can't wait for reform any longer," said Mike Brickner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, during a news conference.
After more than 10 months of protests, activism and a fall election that brought in several new pro-reform lawmakers into the Statehouse, the campaign is essentially the final push to get the General Assembly to pass substantial changes before the end of the legislative year on June 30. After that, lawmakers go on a six-month break.
"All of our organizations are going to come together for the next two and a half months and apply as much pressure as we possibly can because we see this as a grave emergency that needs action now," Brickner said.
The campaign, called "Delaware: Police Accountability NOW," is organized by the ACLU of Delaware, NAACP of Delaware, Network Delaware, Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League’s Building People Power Campaign, Not Just Another Protest and the Delaware Campaign for Smart Justice Policing Workgroup.
They plan to mobilize residents to reach out to lawmakers, urging them to require all police in the state to wear body cameras, address use of force policies and amend the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights — changes that they have been calling for since last summer.
Bills drafted, but not filed
The most controversial item will be the Officers' Bill of Rights, a section of state law that dictates how officers are disciplined and how much the public is allowed to know about that discipline.
Thanks to the law, internal investigations into complaints against police are kept secret Delaware. Police are resistant to any amendments to the document.
Lawmakers have been quietly working on a bill to erase certain protections that police enjoy under the document that keeps internal records hidden from public view. It's not guaranteed that they will officially file the bill, which has not been finalized.
While other states have similar police Bill of Rights laws, Delaware's is perhaps the most secretive because it's the only one in the U.S. with a confidentiality clause, according to a summary of the draft bill that was included in a 62-page legislative report obtained by Delaware Online/The News Journal this week.
The draft bill by Rep. Kendra Johnson, D-Bear, and Sen. Tizzy Lockman, D-Wilmington, would make internal investigation records public.
The report, which was shared with members of Delaware's police accountability task force earlier this month, also included a proposal from the ACLU to amend the Bill of Rights law.
While the ACLU version also opens up internal affairs records to the public, it appears more aggressive than the lawmakers' version by striking out certain provisions about how officers are allowed to be investigated.
Officers would not have to be questioned within a police agency, and police themselves would not be the final deciders of whether the officer is prosecuted, under the ACLU's proposal.
It would pave the way for civilian review boards of non-police to investigate complaints against officers and review law enforcement practices — something that the ACLU and other progressive groups have pushed for.
Lawmakers have not disclosed if they are working on a bill to create such groups in Delaware. Wilmington created its own board, but Mayor Mike Purzycki claims it has been stymied by the police Bill of Rights.
DEMOCRATS DRAFTING TRANSPARENCY BILL:Democrats drafting bill to end police secrecy in Delaware ahead of task force opinion
Activists criticize pace of legislative process
The Wednesday press conference came one day after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd, who died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in May 2020.
Peaceful protests in response to Floyd's death turned violent in Wilmington and Dover last year. Lawmakers responded in June with a list of promises to hold police accountable and ensure racial equity in the state.
They created a task force to study proposals, promising swift and bold changes. Ten months later, several of those promises — including statewide body cameras and amendments to the Officers' Bill of Rights — still haven't been fulfilled.
Residents, as a result, have become impatient.
Reform advocates and the families of people who have died in officer-involved shootings have been disappointed for months in the task force's pace, arguing that lawmakers have done little to address the root causes of police brutality.
Keandra McDole, the sister of Jeremy McDole, a Black man in a wheelchair who was shot and killed by Wilmington police in 2015, expressed those frustrations again during Wednesday's press conference.
She said the police Bill of Rights puts officers on a "pedestal" and keeps people from knowing about misconduct.
"Rest in peace to George Floyd, but we have plenty of George Floyd's here in the state of Delaware," she said. "Plenty of them."
Even some task force members have lost faith after its transparency subcommittee failed to give specific instructions on how to amend the Officers' Bill of Rights law.
In late March, nine subcommittee members sent a letter to the rest of the task force and Black Caucus members expressing no confidence in the group's ability to do its job. They never received a response to the letter.
Haneef Salaam, a manager with the Smart Justice Campaign who sits on the transparency subcommittee, was one of the members to sign the letter. He also spoke during Wednesday's press conference.
He criticized the pace of the process, pointing to how lawmakers are waiting for the task force's recommendations before introducing any bills in order to appear in unison.
"That's all bureaucracy to me," he said. "If you've already got a draft bill, you know what you want to do."
TASK FORCE MEMBERS EXPRESS NO CONFIDENCE:Police accountability task force members express lack of confidence in group's work
PROMISES MADE 10 MONTHS AGO:Few promises fulfilled more than 10 months after Delaware lawmakers vowed police reform
Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.