Delaware moves closer to requiring body cameras on all police officers. Here's the latest
Lawmakers on Thursday announced they are filing a bill that would require all police officers in Delaware to wear body cameras.
House Bill 195 by Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, would require all police officers and certain employees from the Department of Correction and Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families to wear the cameras.
The governor, the attorney general, the Statehouse's majority party, activists and police support the statewide body camera mandate — all but ensuring it's a done deal in Delaware. Lawmakers are likely to pass the bill before the legislative session ends June 30.
On Thursday, Attorney General Kathy Jennings called the body camera policy a "top priority" in building trust and accountability in policing.
The state Department of Justice hopes to have cameras on all officers sometime in 2022, though an exact timeline is so far unclear.
Officials expect the bill to be approved and funding for the program to be secured by July, and then the state will start the bidding process for camera manufacturers, according to Chief Deputy Attorney General Alex Mackler.
According to the proposal, the Council on Police Training would create rules for the use of the cameras for police — including whether to let members of the public see the footage. The council would have to present the rules to the attorney general by January 15.
Jennings supports public access to footage, except in certain circumstances such as interviews with children or sexual assault victims.
"There has to be some type of filter...that protects the rights of those people who, by statute, are guaranteed that protection," Jennings said.
What happens next?
Gov. John Carney has asked lawmakers to spend $3.6 million next year to fund body cameras, though the program would not be fully funded until 2025. The bulk of the expense for the cameras will be paying for digital storage and review of the footage.
Currently, 21 of Delaware's 46 law enforcement agencies use cameras — a three-fold increase from just five years ago, when seven departments had the technology.
New Castle County is the largest department to use the cameras. Delaware State Police piloted cameras in early 2016, but never adopted them full-time.
Wilmington's police department will equip its officers with cameras by the end of May, and Dover police plan to roll out cameras later this year. Once that happens, about 1,100 of the state's 2,200 sworn officers would be wearing body cameras.
"Body-worn cameras have the ability to be a game-changer in police-community relations," Dorsey Walker said in a statement.
"They greatly improve transparency and accountability while providing increased protection for both the police and the community."
A work in progress
Lawmakers have been promising this bill for nearly a year.
In June, they pledged to create the statewide policy as part of an eight-item list of promises to change policing and racial equity in the wake of peaceful protests that turned violent after the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, a Black man, died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin was found guilty of murder last month.
At the same time, lawmakers created a task force to study proposed changes to policing, including body-worn cameras.
The task force issued the bulk of its recommendations to lawmakers in late April and meets again next Thursday to issue more recommendations on issues such as transparency and civilian review boards, which let non-police review misconduct cases and weigh in on officer discipline.
Police have pushed back against certain proposals such as civilian review boards, but have expressed support for body-worn cameras. Police union lobbyists with the Fraternal Order of Police have argued that they benefit police because footage often vindicates the officer, but the cost has blocked departments from getting them.
Patrick Ogden, the head of the Delaware Police Chiefs Council that represents all police departments, said in a statement that every police chief in the state is "committed" to creating a uniform body camera policy.
"They are an invaluable evidentiary tool in prosecuting criminal cases, as well as resolving internal affairs investigations and improving police performance, when utilized for supervisory review and training purposes," Ogden said.
Seven other states have statewide body camera programs, some with phased rollouts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All but one put the policy in place within the last year.
Isabel Hughes and Jeff Neiburg contributed to this report.
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Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.