State Senate Approves Use-Of-Force Revisions


Delaware’s first ‘objective use of force’ standard for police officers is a step closer to becoming law.

The State Senate Thursday voted 14-7 to approve a bill (SB 147) that would stipulate that the use of deadly and non-lethal force would be legally justifiable only if its use is determined to be reasonable. The word “reasonably” would be inserted into the standard several times.

“Under current Delaware law, any use of force by a police officer, no matter how egregious and unnecessary, is considered perfectly legal as long as the officer in question uses the magic words, ‘I believed,’” Senator Marie Pinkney, D-New Castle. said. “I think we all agree there is such a thing as excessive force and it should be prosecuted. This legislation will allow us to finally hold police officers accountable in a court of law when they commit unjustifiable acts of violence, something that is absolutely necessary if we ever hope to restore trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.” 

The measure also clarifies that deadly force includes use of a chokehold, a practice which is outlawed except in instances where police believed that deadly force is required.

“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.” 

A separate bill that also passed in the Senate (SB 148) would expand the Department of Justice Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust’s ability to review police use-of-force incidents that result in someone being seriously injured. That bill would require the division to report the race of individuals involved in use-of-force cases and specify whether race played a factor in how force was applied.

The bills go to the House for consideration.