Members of the Delaware General Assembly introduced sweeping criminal justice and police reform measures today on the steps of Legislative Hall in Dover.
The Delaware Legislative Black Caucus were joined by Attorney General Kathy Jennings and other officials in unveiling several measures they say would improve transparency and fairness in the criminal justice system, including providing access to police disciplinary records and new protections for juvenile defendants.
Jennings also unveiled a list of a dozen reforms aimed at rebuilding the trust between the police forces across the state and the citizens they serve.
Highlights of the measures include:
- Adopting a statewide use of force standard for every police agency
- Reform the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights
- Expand community policing
- Mandatory and universal body cameras
- The establishment of a statewide civilian review board
- Ban the use of knee and chokeholds
- Reform probationer search programs
“I want the police to be trusted by every citizen in this state. I want them to understand what police officers go through. But I want police officers to understand what our citizens go through and the pain that they feel and the injustice that they feel because it’s been 100 years, 200 years, 300 years — since the 1600s in the making,” said Jennings.
State Sen. Darius Brown received assurances from other legislators at today’s press conference that Senate Bill 191, which he introduced in February, will be the first bill taken up when the legislature reconvenes on June 16th.
Passage of Senate Bill 191, the first leg of an amendment to the Delaware Constitution that would explicitly make protection against discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin a fundamental right.
SB-191 is the cornerstone of the Black Legislative Caucus’ “Justice for All Agenda,” which aims to eliminate police violence and address systemic racism.
Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown introduced legislation that will mandate the video recording of juvenile custodial interrogations. She says the legislation will help promote truth-finding and accountability while protecting the rights of juveniles accused of a crime.
Minor-Brown cited studies that show that an adolescent brain is constantly developing. As a result, “decision making and risk assessment” in teens, she said, can be easily influenced by others.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is educate my son on the current events, my six-year-old son, and to respond to the follow-up questions, and still try to empower him,” said Minor-Brown. “At the same time, but not promise him to he’ll never be a victim, any interaction with the criminal justice system can be life-changing for a child.”
State Sen. Tizzy Lockman introduced an amendment to allow criminal defendants and those legally representing them to access disciplinary records.
“We believe that by taking this step to increase transparency and access to those records. We can do it.”
Rep. Frank D. Cooke, representing the 16th district, said he will be heading up the new Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force.
Cook, himself a long-time police officer, was once the Grievance Chair in the New Castle County Police Department. “As you all know, I was a cop for 30 years. This hurts… I know you know good cops — support them. Those in our communities, support them. This apple has made it all bad in this basket for all police officers, Hispanic, black, white women, and men,” he said.
Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha introduced two initiatives — legislation that would make chokeholds or a similar restraint illegal and the formation of an African American task force in partnership with Delaware State University, the School of Health and Behavioral Sciences.
“The task force is going to be more holistic, not just looking at the health disparities, but all disparities within our community from education, criminal justice, housing, environmental concerns, community violence. And it will be the goal of the task force to come up with specific recommendations for legislation,” he said.
U.S. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester also announced the introduction of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, aimed at improving accountability, increasing transparency, and reforming police training.
“Over the past weeks,… we’ve watched Americans of every age, race, creed, and station take to the streets to demand bold systemic change to policing in this country. Specifically, they are demanding increased accountability, transparency, and training for officers sworn to protect our communities,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester.
“I came to share with you that on Monday the Congressional Black Caucus, along with members of the House and the [U.S.] Senate introduced the justice in policing act of 2020, which has many of the same components that you will hear about today, we are in perfect alignment. Because we know again this is about justice for all.”
Blunt Rochester also said she is working to make lynching a federal crime. “In our bill in Congress, we do focus on training, but we also focus on the fact that we have never been able to pass an anti-lynching bill in our country. How crazy is that?”
Gov. John Carney said he has been doing a lot of listening over the last two weeks to various constituencies proposing change. “And I’ve listened to the young people. Coby Owens [who helped organize last Friday’s protest] was here, who led the marching in Wilmington over the weekend. I want to thank Coby and all the organizers for the way the march came off and for getting us focused. And for your relentless attention to change.”
Added to Jenning’s list of policing reforms are three internal reform measures at the Department of Justice:
- Expand Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust’s authority to review use of force incidents beyond fatal police shootings
- Police videos: Publicly release videos of police shootings within ethical bounds
- Data collection: Collect and report publicly racial data in all felony cases
“I’ve been a defense attorney for decades and my experience has taught me that oftentimes the criminal justice system is neither fair, nor color blind, nor balanced,” said Brendan O’Neill, Chief Defender at the Office of Defense Services.
“These proposed reforms are a start at tackling the systemic racism and inequity that plague our criminal justice system. Our office represents roughly 85 percent of criminal defendants in Delaware and the majority of our clients are people of color. They are at a disadvantage the minute they come into police contact. We need to fix that. This is a good first step,” he said.
Rep. Stephanie Bolden, founder of the Delaware Black Congressional Caucus, said she hoped the collective actions will propel the Congressional Delegation to take swift action.
“We have been here to address these same types of inequities and injustices for decades as the Negro, the colored one, African American, black, Afro American, people of color — we’ve have enjoyed this throughout history. Hopefully, we will get it right this time,” she said.
“Our caucus has acutely laid out and addressed the “2020 Justice for All Agenda,” which by working with our colleagues that are here… will respond to the urgencies that we ourselves and our constituents have expressed… Today we rise up again, decades later, with a new generation, which brought about a national unity throughout the world as a result of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others who have suffered grave endangerment and injustices.
“And I ask that this generation going forward that we continue. We cannot become complacent and forget and think that everything has changed or get too comfortable in what we’re doing now when the fight always continues,” said Re. Bolden.