Del. Bills Address Police Use Of Force, Disciplinary Records

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With five weeks to go in Delaware’s legislative session, several police accountability-related bills have been introduced for consideration in the Delaware General Assembly.

The measures were introduced on the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd as a former Minneapolis Police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee over his neck. The incident touched off a period of unrest nationally, and Delaware was one of numerous states that undertook policing reforms.

Senate Bill 149, sponsored by State Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington would amend sections of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights to make records of police misconduct accessible to the public.

“For too long, police misconduct records have been hidden,” Assistant Public Defender Misty Seemans said. “Delaware is in the minority of states where police misconduct – lying, the excessive use of force, abuse of power, tampering with evidence – is secret. Communities, criminal defendants, judges, and juries should know who is policing their communities and testifying in court. This bill removes the barriers to public access to misconduct records, a misconduct database, and civilian oversight, paving the way for a fairer and more transparent criminal justice system.” 

An objective, use-of-force standard for Delaware police officers could be created under a bill introduced by State Senator Marie Pinkney, D- New Castle. Pinkney said Delaware is one of three states that allow police officers to use deadly force when they believe it to be justified, regardless of whether such a belief is “reasonable.”

Senate Bill 147 would insert the word “reasonably” throughout Delaware’s use-of-force law.

“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,’” Pinkney said. “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.” 

Senate Bill 148, also sponsored by Pinkney, would grant expanded power to the Delaware Department of Justice Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust to review police use-of-force incidents that result in serious physical injury, in addition to the current mandate that all deadly force incidents be reviewed. Also, the measure would require the division to report the race of the individuals involved in use-of-force cases and specify whether race played a factor in how force was applied. 

“Our laws are only strong when they’re clear, and Delaware has one of the least enforceable, most confusing use of force laws in America,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said. “Everyone, from the most ardent activists to the most stalwart veterans of law enforcement, believes that excessive force ought to be prosecuted. I’m grateful to Sen. Pinkney and Rep. Dorsey Walker for standing up to say that our laws should reflect that consensus.” 

  


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