The Delaware House of Representatives this week overwhelmingly passed a bill that would establish new standards for reporting police misconduct allegations, hailed by sponsors as a giant leap toward transparency.
After the bill passed, the Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, thanked the people who helped get the bill passed.
“I also want to thank the police officers in this chamber as well for coming forward with a plan…saying, we’re not fighting anymore, we want to help, we want to fix this thing,” Schwartzkopf said. “What it takes sometimes to get really meaningful language changed, is to get the right people at the table.”
House Substitute 1 for House Bill 205, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle, would require an investigating agency to prepare a detailed report of its internal investigation for any case involved a police officer and publicly release it. That includes:
- Firing a gun at a person.
- Using force that causes serious physical injury.
- Having a sustained case of sexual assault or sexual harrassment having been committed by the officer from an internal report.
- Having a sustained finding of domestic violence having been committed.
- A sustained finding that the officer has engaged in dishonest conduct.
The Criminal Justice Council will post the narrative of the case on its website within 30 days of receiving the narrative from the investigating agency, according to the bill.
Those records must be preserved for at least 25 years and would be posted on the Police Officer Standards and Training Commission’s website.
The bill also renames the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights to Police Officers’ Due Process, Accountability and Transparency.
Rep. Franklin Cooke, D-New Castle/Minquadale and a retired New Castle County police officer, also thanked the people who participated in his Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, which met from August 2020 to March 2022.
“This bill is very, very important to me…And I just want to thank everyone, all 72, that was on that task force, working hard for two years to get something going, and we got more work to do,” Cooke said. “But this is a step forward. LEOBOR hasn’t been touched for almost 50 years for 53 police departments. It’s time to make a move.”
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Rep. Cyndie Romer, D-Newark, who participated in the task force before she was elected to office, said she appreciated all the discussions about the bill.
“And thank you to the committee chair for allowing those conversations to happen and for letting me be part of this,” she said.
When the bill came up in the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee June 7, members of the public raised issues with the bill, saying that it doesn’t provide enough transparency.
While the substitute bill is similar to the original bill, it differs by updating when a report must be filed, including adding sexual harassment, clarifying that it’s when a gun is fired at a person, and that it is dishonest conduct in general, not just as it relates to the specific case.
Minor-Brown said the bill is an important step in increasing transparency of law enforcement and increasing trust for police officers among the public.
She cited “a very real concern about the lack of transparency surrounding complaints and discipline against police officers that the public is shielded from knowing whether the officer sworn to protect their community is a model cop or someone who has a history of violating policies or harassing or injuring residents.
“That secrecy leads to a strong distrust in the system and that law enforcement is effectively policing itself.”
Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, D-Newark, was the only representative to vote against the bill. She did not give a reason why.
The bill’s fiscal note estimates it will cost $3,500 in one time funding and $65,836 in recurring funding for the 2024 fiscal year, $89,537 in recurring funds in the 2025 fiscal year, and $91,328 in ongoing funding for the 2026 fiscal year.
The bill will now go to the Senate Executive Committee for a hearing. If it is not acted on before June 30, it will still be a live bill when the General Assembly reconvenes in January because Delaware’s sessions stretch over two calendar years.
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