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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate sends bills revamping law enforcement bill of rights, review boards to Governor John Carney

June 30, 2023

DOVER – The Senate on Friday sent two measures to Governor John Carney that would revamp how law enforcement disciplinary cases are handled and publicly disclosed, and add members of the public to a panel tasked with setting training standards and reviewing allegations of misconduct by Delaware police officers.

Together, the bills would require public disclosure of certain findings against police officers, mandate that certain disciplinary reports be shared with defense attorneys and provide greater oversight of state and local law enforcement agencies.

The measures build on previous police reform efforts proposed by the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus, including laws that required police officers to use body-worn cameras, established a statewide use-of-force standard, banned officers from using chokeholds, mandated the recording of all police custodial interrogations, prohibited the use of deceptive tactics against juveniles and mandated a minimum age for arrest and prosecution.

“The bills we passed today represent an important step forward in our ongoing efforts to shed light on the culture of secrecy and ambiguity that has made it impossible for our communities to differentiate between honest police officers upholding their oath and bad apples whose actions spread fear and distrust among our neighbors,” Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman said. “While we still have more work to do around records transparency and community review boards, these bills are an important move in the right direction, and I look forward to Governor Carney signing them into law.”

Sponsored by House Majority Whip Melissa Minor-Brown and Sen. Lockman, House Substitute 1 for House Bill 205 would make numerous changes to the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, also known as LEOBOR, including renaming the law Police Officer’s Due Process, Accountability, and Transparency. 

The strict confidentiality provisions currently contained in LEOBOR 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 recently convicted of domestic violence, sexual solicitation of a child, excessive force, abusing narcotics on the job and operating a phantom traffic ticket scheme are currently shielded from public view. 

HS 1 for HB 205 would require police agencies that investigate allegations of misconduct to prepare a detailed narrative that includes a complete description of the facts, evidence collected, conclusions reached, the names of officers involved in substantiated findings, disciplinary actions taken and the employment status of disciplined officers.

Investigating agencies would then be required to forward detailed narratives to the Criminal Justice Council (CJC) for online publication in cases involving the discharge of a firearm at a person, use of force that results in serious physical injury, sustained findings of sexual assault or sexual harassment, sustained findings of domestic violence or sustained findings of dishonest conduct not limited to perjury, false statements, filing false reports, witness tampering and destruction, falsification or concealment of evidence.

HS 1 for HB 205 also requires that defense attorneys in a criminal or delinquency case be provided – at their request – all records relating to sustained findings of officer misconduct relating to perjury, intentional false statements or false reports, or destruction, falsification, or concealment of evidence by an officer who participated in the investigation or prosecution.

Each law enforcement agency also would be required to submit additional information to the CJC annually for public posting, including the number of public complaints and internal complaints received pertaining to police misconduct, the number of formal investigations undertaken by the department, the number of complaints resolved without a formal investigation and the number of formal investigations that resulted in a sustained finding of misconduct, an unsubstantiated finding or any other disposition.

“This bill moves us forward and ends years of stagnation on this issue, making a real impact by increasing transparency and public reporting, holding officers accountable, and formalizing the entire process,” Rep. Minor-Brown said. “This bill is a serious and meaningful step in the right direction after several attempts to make progress on this issue.”

The Senate on Friday also passed House Bill 206, sponsored by Rep. Kendra Johnson and Senator Darius Brown, to overhaul the Council on Police Training and rename it the Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission.

“The Police Officer Standards and Training Commission continues the work of the Justice For All Agenda that the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus put forward in the 150th General Assembly,” Senator Brown said. “I look forward to this latest police accountability measure being signed into law.”

The panel currently has a dual role of establishing training standards for Delaware police officers and overseeing allegations of police officer misconduct, including holding hearings for possible suspensions or decertifications.

HB 206 would increase the number of Governor-appointed members of the public who serve on the commission from two to three. One would be required to be a community religious leader, while the other must be someone who has been impacted directly or immediate family members or caregivers of someone impacted by the criminal justice system. The appointees would be based on non-binding recommendations from the NAACP, the Delaware Center for Justice and other interested nonprofits. No Governor-appointed member of the public could be a current or former member of law enforcement or affiliated with law enforcement.

HB 206 expands the commission’s existing powers to suspend or revoke an officer’s certification to include cases in which an officer has been decertified in another jurisdiction or has received probation before judgment in a criminal case involving theft, fraud or violation of the public trust or drug law.

The commission also would have the authority to issue subpoenas for witnesses, documents, physical evidence or other evidence needed in connection with a hearing.

HB 206 also would require all Delaware police departments to establish police accountability boards to advise those agencies on policy, training and other matters. Delaware police agencies also would be required to gain accreditation from the Delaware Police Accreditation Commission by July 1, 2028, standardizing many policies and procedures across all 51 law enforcement agencies in the state.

Finally, the bill would implement several reforms to untether the commission from the Delaware State Police, and require the commission to double its mandated annual meetings to four.

“The Council on Police Training plays a vital role in shaping police standards, training and discipline across the state. But an important voice has been missing: those who are intimately involved with or have been impacted by the criminal justice system. HB 206 ensures that public members of the commission have that experience and can bring it to the process,” Rep. Johnson said. “The bill will also address longstanding goals by requiring local accountability boards, increasing transparency, and providing public access to various records, reports and data. These changes will allow the public to play a more direct role in holding officers accountable.”

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