Delaware Considers Agenda For Police Reforms

The killing of George Floyd inspired mostly peaceful protests across Delaware, including this one in Rehoboth Beach. (Blade staff photo)

(WB) In response to national calls for police reform that have followed the killing of George Floyd, Delaware’s Legislative Black Caucus has introduced the Justice for All Agenda.

Among reforms such as banning knee holds, requiring body cameras to be worn by all officers interacting with suspects and removing some immunity protections for officers accused of misconduct, the agenda also amends the state constitution to explicitly ban racial discrimination and includes establishing an African-American Task Force to make “restorative investments” in black communities.

Sen. Darius Brown of Wilmington, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, sees the agenda as “a continuation of the work [the legislature] has already done” on issues of justice.

Because the agenda includes a constitutional amendment, it will need to pass in two successive legislative sessions in order to become law. As a result, the bill won’t become law until the next legislative session in 2021. 

Mike Brickner, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware, worries that these proposals don’t go far enough in reforming criminal justice in the state.    

“We have to make sure there are teeth behind these accountability proposals,” Brickner said. “In many cities, I have seen well-intentioned civilian review boards not given the actual power to hold officers accountable.”

Among the policies contributing to Delaware’s large per capita prison population is Operation Safe Streets in Wilmington, which Brickner explains sends officers into “high-crime” neighborhoods to look for people with minor probation violations and send them back to prison.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted this program, leading to a reduction in arrests.   

“Eventually things will get back to normal after COVID-19,” Brickner says, “so right now is a time for us as a state to question if we want to get back to our previous system of mass incarceration, or if we want to lessen the role of police in our communities.”

Brown agrees that the legislature “should look into how Operation Safe Streets is being conducted, especially in the city of Wilmington.”

The removal of the Christopher Columbus and Caesar Rodney statues in Wilmington demonstrates how these reforms are made possible by the cultural shift resulting from Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests. 

“Police officers are often lionized in our culture,” said Brickner. “Right now, we are in a moment in Delaware and in the country where people are looking at issues that once seemed untouchable with fresh eyes.”

While protests in Delaware have remained largely peaceful, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen only lifted the city’s curfew on Saturday morning, nearly a week after Minneapolis, ground zero for the unrest, ended its curfew. The Delaware ACLU questions whether the extended curfew was necessary to maintain public safety, or if it remained in place to “thwart free speech.”