The House passed a first step in the reform of the Delaware’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights by a vote of 39-1-1. The sole no vote comes from Democrat Madinah Wilson Anton.
Sponsored by House Majority Whip Melissa Minor-Brown, House Bill 205S would increase transparency for a system that has been criticized in recent years for its secretive nature by requiring public disclosure of certain findings against officers, mandating the sharing of certain reports with defense attorneys, and other reforms.
HB 205S would make numerous changes to the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, also known as LEOBOR. The bill would distinguish between formal investigations and informal inquiries but require that both follow federal and state law. It would establish “sustained findings,” defined as a violation of law, rule, policy, regulation or guideline determined by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning more probably true than not.
Within 30 days of the conclusion of a formal investigation and hearings, the investigating agency would prepare a detailed narrative, which would include a complete description of the facts, evidence collected, conclusions reached, the names of officers involved for whom misconduct was substantiated, any discipline assigned in connection with the event, and the employment status of disciplined officers.
HB 205S would require an investigating agency to forward detailed narratives to the Criminal Justice Council to be publicly posted on its website in any case involving:
- An officer’s discharge of a firearm at a person.
- An officer’s use of force that results in serious physical injury.
- A sustained finding of sexual assault (committed or attempted) or sexual harassment.
- A sustained finding of dishonest conduct, including but not limited to perjury, false statements, filing false reports, witness tampering, and destruction, falsification, or concealment of evidence.
- A sustained finding of domestic violence.
The bill also would rename LEOBOR to Police Officer’s Due Process, Accountability, and Transparency.
HB 205S also would require that an investigation into officer misconduct be completed and sustained findings reported, regardless of their employment status, including whether the officer has resigned or retired during the investigation.
Under the bill, the Department of Justice would be required to disclose in a criminal or delinquency case, all existing records, including those contained in a personnel or disciplinary file, relating to sustained findings of misconduct – including perjury, witness tampering, intentional false statements or false reports, or destruction, falsification, or concealment of evidence by an officer who participated in the investigation or prosecution.
It also would require law enforcement agencies to disclose to DOJ unsubstantiated allegations in cases where an ongoing formal investigation into an officer’s alleged misconduct is related to their participation in the same pending criminal matter.
The bill also requires that defense attorneys in a criminal or delinquency case be provided – at their request – all records relating to sustained findings of 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.
HB 205S also would require each law enforcement agency to annually submit additional information to CJC to be publicly posted:
- The number of public complaints and internal complaints relating to police misconduct that the department received each year, broken down by subject matter of the complaint.
- The number of formal investigations undertaken by the department each year, and the number of complaints resolved without a formal investigation.
- The number of formal investigations that resulted in a sustained finding of misconduct, an unsubstantiated finding, or any other disposition.
In addition to existing disclosure obligations under federal or State law, DOJ would have the duty under the bill to disclose to the defense or the court any open investigation into dishonesty by an officer involved in that defendant’s case.
Records relating to any incident for which a detailed narrative is required to be prepared and posted must be preserved for at least 25 years.
House Bill 205S now heads to the Senate for consideration.
|HOUSE BILL 205S – REFORMING THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S BILL OF RIGHTS||Currrent Status – House Passed 39-1-1. S|
|House Sponsors – Minor-Brown, Johnson, Bolden, Cooke, Chukwuocha, Dorsey Walker, Neal, Harris||Senate Sponsors – Lockman, Brown, Pinkney|
|House Yes Votes – Baumbach Bolden Bush Carson Chukwuocha Cooke Dorsey-Walker Griffith Harris Johnson Lambert Longhurst Lynn Matthews Minor-Brown Moore Morrison Neal Osienski Parker-Selby Phillips Romer Schwartzkopf Williams // Briggs King Collins Dukes Gray Hensley Hilovsky Morris Postles Ramone Short Shupe Smith Spiegelman Vanderwende Yearick||Senate Yes Votes –|
|House No Votes – Wilson Anton||Senate No Votes –|
|House Absents or Not Voting – Heffernan||Senate Absent or Not Voting –|
“There is 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,” said Rep. Minor-Brown, D-New Castle South. “This bill is a serious and meaningful step in the right direction after several attempts to make progress on this issue. This bill will make a real impact by increasing transparency and public reporting, holding officers accountable, and formalizing the entire process.
“I understand the real challenges our community faces and the need to fix these problems. I also know how critical it is to take those first steps and build a base as we continue to pursue more reforms. This bill moves us forward and ends years of stagnation on this issue.”