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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Lockman, Rep. Johnson Introduce Revised LEOBOR Reform Bill

March 21, 2022

DOVER – Nearly two years after the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus announced its Justice For All Agenda in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman and Delaware Legislative Black Caucus Chair Rep. Kendra Johnson on Monday introduced revised legislation to remove systemic barriers that shield police officers from being held accountable when they violate the public’s trust.

Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 149 would – for the first time in more than 25 years – open serious and substantiated police misconduct records to public view, while creating a new level of public oversight through two tiers of community review boards, each with the power to examine Delaware’s law enforcement agencies’ handling of officer misconduct cases and make recommendations for improvements.

“Immediately after the greatest civil unrest our state has seen in decades, my colleagues and I stood on the steps of Legislative Hall and vowed to take action,” said Sen. Lockman, D-Wilmington. “For too long, the information the public needs to differentiate between an honest police officer upholding their oath and a bad apple sowing further distrust remains locked away from public view. The legislation we are filing today will not only shed light on the culture of secrecy and ambiguity that has allowed hatred and fear of law enforcement to grow in our state, it will – for the first time in Delaware history – put a measure of oversight into those agencies in the hands of the people, where it belongs.”

The product of a half dozen public meetings between legislators, criminal justice advocates and law enforcement officers, SS 1 for SB 149 would amend sections of the Delaware Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights that currently block public disclosure of individual police misconduct cases while adding new sections to enable the creation of local and statewide community review boards capable of verifying that law enforcement agencies are taking appropriate disciplinary action and properly disclosing police misconduct records.

The strict confidentiality provisions currently contained in the Delaware Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights have enabled a number of officers to continue serving despite repeated and egregious accusations of misconduct, including a former Dover officer whose file contained nearly 30 use-of-force reports, a fact that came to light only after he was captured on video breaking a man’s jaw.

Disciplinary records for police officers more recently accused of sexual solicitation of a child, excessive force, abusing narcotics on the job and operating a phantom traffic ticket scheme remain shielded from public view.

Several states, including California, New York and Maryland, have recently passed reforms to join a majority of other states that make police disciplinary records partially or fully available to the public.

SS 1 for SB 149 would help make Delaware policing equally transparent by allowing the public to review serious and substantiated police disciplinary records, including cases confirmed through law enforcement internal investigations to involve excessive use of force, acts or attempted acts of sexual assault, domestic violence, falsifying documents, witness and evidence tampering, conduct unbecoming of an officer and other sanctions that result in an officer’s termination, reduction in rank or a suspension of 40 hours or more, among other forms of misconduct.

The legislation also would create a new system of public oversight with checks and balances on law enforcement agencies’ disciplinary decisions, while ensuring police officers who face accusations of misconduct receive due process.

Under the bill, municipalities and county governments would be able 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. Local CRBs 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.

In cases in which a local CRB believes justice is not being served, it could request further review by a statewide CRB made up of people from historically impacted communities authorized to confidentially review completed internal investigations and issue public reports on their findings.
“Ever since the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus announced the Justice for All Agenda in June 2020, we have worked consistently to achieve meaningful criminal justice and law enforcement reforms. We mandated police body cameras, required recording of interrogations, established a uniform use-of-force standard, automated expungements, raised the age of prosecution, and more,” said Rep. Kendra Johnson, the bill’s lead House sponsor and chair of the Black Caucus. “We pledged to tackle an ambitious agenda of reforms, and we’ve followed through on the vast majority of our priorities so far. Taken together, these changes will have a real, meaningful impact on our criminal justice system and the way it serves communities of color in Delaware.
“Reforming the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights is probably the most complex piece of that puzzle. Sen. Lockman has been tireless in engaging all sides of this issue to put forward a bill that will help communities rebuild trust in law enforcement. This bill will greatly improve transparency, accountability, public oversight, and checks and balances. It will make the first significant change to LEOBOR in 25 years, and I think that is an important step forward.”

Sen. Marie Pinkney said transparency, accountability, public oversight, and checks and balances these are all hallmarks of healthy, functioning democracy.

“Sen. Lockman deserves a tremendous amount of credit for taking on one of the most difficult and important issues facing our state and putting forward a rational bill that will create the opportunity for communities to participate in the oversight of law enforcement by knowing for certain that police misconduct cases are being appropriately handled,” said Pinkney, D-Bear, chair of the Senate Corrections & Public Safety Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill. “I know there are some fierce reform advocates hoping for more aggressive reforms and some fierce supporters of police who want no change at all. Over the last 25 years, refusing to move forward has only helped to protect the status quo and left Delaware with years of ground to make up when it comes to keeping our communities safe. This bill moves us closer to that collective goal.”