Two bills aimed at greater transparency and public accountability in cases alleging misconduct by police officers cleared a Democrat-led House committee on Wednesday despite concerns by reform advocates that they do not go far enough.
One measure targets the current confidentiality provisions in Delaware’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, or LEOBOR, which critics claim have been used to shield information from the public regarding officers who have been disciplined for misconduct.
The other bill establishes a new Police Officer Standards and Training Commission, which would replace Delaware’s Council on Police Training. The legislation also shifts responsibility for administrative support and oversight of mandatory training and education programs for police officers from the Delaware State Police to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. It also requires that every police department, large or small, be accredited by July 2028. Currently only 21 of Delaware’s 52 police departments meet that standard.
“Accreditation will become a requirement for every agency in the state of Delaware,” said chief bill sponsor Kendra Johnson, a Bear Democrat.
Under the LEOBOR reform bill, a police agency would be required to inform the Standards and Training Commission when an investigation finds that an officer engaged in a sexual assault, dishonest conduct or domestic violence. Incidents involving an officer firing his weapon or causing serious physical injury to a person also would have to be reported. The commission would be required to post the narratives on it website.
Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, a New Castle Democrat and chief sponsor of the bill, agreed that it should be amended to require that a complainant or victim of officer misconduct also be informed of an investigation’s findings.
The bill also requires prosecutors in criminal cases to provide the defense, upon request, records including personnel files involving dishonest conduct by an officer involved in the case.
The legislation also requires police agencies to submit annual reports to the state Criminal Justice Council regarding the number of complaints of officer misconduct received each year, the number of formal investigations undertaken in response to complaints, and the number of complaints resolved without a formal investigation.
Meanwhile, the training and standards commission, which would consist of 17 members, would be required to have three members of the public appointed by the governor. One must be a religious leader with experience in re-entry programs for criminal offenders. The other two would be chosen because they or family members or caregivers have been affected by the criminal justice system.
The bill encourages similar membership set-asides on the police accountability committees or boards that all local police departments would have to establish.
Critics of the bills, including representatives of the NAACP, the ACLU and Metropolitan Urban League of Wilmington, contend that the measures don’t go far enough. They also contend that, despite the transparency reforms, the bills, which are supported by the law enforcement community, are still too police-friendly.
“I definitely feel like something’s off as far as the buy-in from law enforcement and the community,” said Rep. Cyndi Romer, who tried unsuccessfully to table Johnson’s bill and voted against releasing it for consideration by the full House.