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Chiefs oppose new version of police bill of rights

Charles MegginsonGovernment, Headlines

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Photo courtesy of Delaware State Police

Police officers are not on board with a revised bill to amend Delaware’s Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights.

The bill would open police misconduct records for the public to view and create two tiers of community review boards, each with the power to examine law enforcement agencies’ handling of officer misconduct cases and make recommendations for improvements.

Police misconduct records would also be able to be used in court proceedings and police agencies would be barred from destroying or discarding those records.

In a statement after the substitute bill was filed, Lockman said a “culture of secrecy and ambiguity…has allowed hatred and fear of law enforcement to grow in our state” and argued that the legislation will put “oversight into those agencies in the hands of the people, where it belongs.” 

Patrick Ogden, president of the Delaware Association of Chiefs of Police, said in an op-ed published Tuesday that his biggest concern is that law enforcement would be excluded from being voting members on civilian review boards. 

“Every single professional board in the State of Delaware includes practitioners from the industry,” the chief said. “To exclude members of the law enforcement community flies in the face of working together to garner trust, transparency and accountability.”

Ogden also cited concerns relating to the lack of clarity around civilian review boards and questioned: “how they will work from a sensible and realistic perspective.”

“We are not opposed to being more transparent. We are not opposed to accountability. However, we are disheartened that the members of the General Assembly, namely those who are leading the charge, have not taken the time to truly understand the process which they are trying to alter through this legislation,” he said. 

Ogden is also associate vice president and chief of police at the University of Delaware.

Lockman argued that by shielding officers’ misconduct records, numerous officers in Delaware have continued to serve in positions of public trust despite “repeated and egregious accusations of misconduct.”

Under the bill, municipalities and county governments would be able to create local community review boards with the power to analyze patterns in police discipline and determine whether local law enforcement agencies are handling police misconduct cases appropriately. 

Those boards would be able to access redacted and de-identified versions of police disciplinary records – including unsubstantiated complaints – and recommend changes to the internal policies and procedures used by law enforcement agencies. 

According to Lockman, if a local community review board believes a police agency is not acting appropriately, it could request further review by a statewide community review board.

That board, according to a press release from the Senate Democratic Caucus, would be made up of people from “historically impacted communities.” 

The state board would be authorized to confidentially review completed internal investigations and issue public reports on their findings.

Efforts to reach the Delaware Fraternal Order of Police for comment were unsuccessful.

Rep. Kendra Johnson, the bill’s House sponsor, said that since the Legislative Black Caucus – which she chairs – announced the “Justice for All Agenda” in June 2020, the group has worked consistently to achieve “meaningful criminal justice and law enforcement reforms.”

Those reforms include requiring police body cameras and recording of interrogations, establishing a uniform use-of-force standard, automating expungements and raising the age of prosecution, Johnson, D-Bear said. 

Those were all efforts that the Delaware Association of Police Chiefs and others were glad to be a part of, according to Ogden. 

“For each one of these items the Chiefs of Police offered our public support and commitment to implementing these new laws,” he said. 

The chiefs offered professional experience to help educate other stakeholders on the process and procedures that are currently in place and offered meaningful suggestions on how to improve accountability, Ogden said. 

In late February 2022, Lockman invited the police chiefs and others to a meeting during which they discussed substitute language conceptually. 

On March 8, Ogden said, a draft substitute was shared with the police chiefs association, and two days later they were asked to meet to discuss the draft language.

“During that meeting, we highlighted both procedural and pragmatic concerns, as well as our commitment to get this right to achieve our common goals,” the chief said. “A substitute bill was filed late yesterday without any notice and without any feedback from the sponsors relative to our previous discussion.”

He added that “being a good-faith partner goes both ways” and concluded that, as written, the Delaware Association of Chiefs of Police cannot support the substitute bill. 

Because the original bill already went through the committee process in 2021, the substitute bill can move to the Senate floor without additional consideration.

The Senate agenda for Thursday hasn’t been posted, but it could happen as soon as this week.

If passed in the Senate, the bill would proceed to a House committee and then to the full House for final consideration and approval.

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