By RANDALL CHASE from the Associated Press
DOVER, Del. (AP) — House lawmakers in Delaware voted overwhelmingly Thursday to approve a bill aimed at greater transparency and public accountability in cases alleging police misconduct.
The legislation, which targets current confidentiality provisions in Delaware’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, was approved on a 39-1 vote. It now goes to the Senate.
Critics have argued for years that the bill of rights has been used to shield information from the public regarding officers who have been disciplined for misconduct.
“This bill has been a long time coming,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Democrat. “It’s been a lot of hard work.”
Schwartzkopf, a retired state trooper, thanked members of the law enforcement community for helping draft legislation that could be accepted by both police officers and advocates for more accountability.
Representatives of the NAACP, ACLU and Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League have argued, however, that the bill does not go far enough and is too police-friendly. Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, a progressive Democrat from Newark, was the only House member to vote against the bill.
Under the reform measure, a police agency would be required to inform the state Council on Police Training when an investigation finds that an officer engaged in sexual assault, sexual harassment, dishonest conduct or domestic violence. Instances involving an officer firing his weapon at a person or causing serious physical injury also would have to be reported. The council would be required to post the narratives on its website within 30 days.
The bill also requires that a complainant or victim of officer misconduct be informed of an investigation’s findings.
Prosecutors in criminal cases would be required to provide the defense, upon request, records including personnel files involving sustained findings of dishonest conduct, including false statements and witness tampering, by an officer involved in the case. A police agency also would be required to disclose to prosecutors unsubstantiated allegations of dishonest conduct by an officer involved in a criminal case if the allegations are the subject of an ongoing investigation. If that investigation cannot substantiate the allegation, the information could not be used in the case.
The legislation also requires police agencies to submit annual reports to the Criminal Justice Council regarding the number of misconduct complaints received each year, the number of formal investigations undertaken, the number of investigations substantiating misconduct, and the number of complaints resolved without a formal investigation.
Lawmakers are expected to vote next week on a separate bill that establishes a new Police Officer Standards and Training Commission, which would replace the Council on Police Training. The legislation 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.