Another important bill, Senate Bill 149, that still waits on a vote in the Senate and then in the House. This bill sponsored by Sen. Tizzy Lockman and Rep. Kendra Johnson, which would amend sections of the Delaware Law-Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) by making records of police misconduct publicly accessible for the first time in 25 years.
The First State is the only state that specifically codifies the confidentiality of law enforcement personnel records from public scrutiny in nearly all circumstances.
Currently, police misconduct records are only available to a civil plaintiff alleging an officer caused injury through a breach of their official duty. Criminal defense attorneys cannot access them to show an officer has engaged in a pattern of misconduct and the public cannot inspect them to determine whether a law enforcement agency is holding its officers to a high standard of conduct.
The strict confidentiality clause contained in the Delaware Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights has 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 before being captured on video breaking a man’s jaw.
Eight states, including California, New York and Maryland have passed similar laws since 2018, joining a majority of states that make police disciplinary records partially or fully available to the public. It’s not only the public demanding increased scrutiny. A recent survey found that 72% of police officers believe their colleagues who consistently do a poor job are not held accountable.
Senate Bill 149 would help make Delaware policing more transparent by allowing the public to review police disciplinary records, including any complaints, allegations or charges filed against a police officer, transcripts of disciplinary trials or hearings, and the factual findings and the final disposition of the case. Personal information including home addresses, telephone numbers, any medical history or the names of family members and witnesses would be redacted and remain confidential under the legislation.
Senate Bill 149 also would allow any state agency, county or municipality that operates a law enforcement agency to empower a community review board to hear and decide law-enforcement disciplinary matters in place of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council or a tribunal made up of fellow police officers.
|Senate Bill 149 Sponsors||Yes Votes||No Votes|
|Lockman, Pinkney, McBride, Sokola, Sturgeon, Townsend|
|K.Johnson, Baumbach, Bentz, Kowalko, Lambert, Lynn, Minor-Brown, S.Moore, Morrison, WIlson-Anton|
|Current Status: Out of Committee 6/16/21|
“For too long, police misconduct records have been hidden,” Assistant Public Defender Misty Seemans said. “Delaware is in the minority of states where police misconduct – lying, the excessive use of force, abuse of power, tampering with evidence – is secret. Communities, criminal defendants, judges, and juries should know who is policing their communities and testifying in court. This bill removes the barriers to public access to misconduct records, a misconduct database, and civilian oversight, paving the way for a fairer and more transparent criminal justice system.”
“Too often, an officer who uses excessive force, abuses their authority, tampers with evidence or engages in sexual misconduct is described as a ‘bad apple,’ a term that is meant to separate police officers who engage in wrongdoing from the upstanding officers they serve alongside,” said Sen. Lockman. “Yet, the laws here in Delaware actually prevent us from being able to tell the difference.”
“Our communities and the police officers sworn to protect them deserve better. Honest police officers deserve a disciplinary system that’s fair, transparent, and impartial. Our communities deserve a system that holds ‘bad apples’ accountable. And both deserve lawmakers with the courage to draw a clear distinction between the two,” she said. “This legislation will do just that by ending the culture of secrecy and ambiguity that has allowed hatred, fear and mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color to flourish for far too long.”
“If we do not have transparency, there can be no accountability. The two go hand-in-hand when it comes to building trust for all people, but especially between law enforcement and the community they serve,” said Rep. Kendra Johnson, SB 149’s lead House sponsor. “This is a critically important step, and with this framework, we can strengthen public safety and protect the rights of officers and citizens in Delaware. I thank my colleagues for supporting this legislation and taking a stand for change.”