A bill proposing reform to Delaware’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) is set to be heard in committee on Wednesday, June 16. A group of activists from the Delaware Campaign for Fair Policing gathered this past Saturday to knock on doors and talk to citizens about what the bill means and the positive impacts it could have. The canvassing event was the fifth the campaign had organized since May 15.
The group was small but dedicated. The neighborhood, located in New Castle County just outside Wilmington city limits, was a mixture of people and backgrounds. With tomato plants out front and motorcycles in the driveway, one resident initially ignored the knock on the door. But when community organizer Shyanne Miller explained they were asking for people to sign a petition, the resident agreed to listen. Miller expertly explained the purpose of the bill.
SB 149 is about LEOBOR reform. Delaware needs more accountability in policing, and this bill would give citizens access to records of police misconduct––similar to the access people have to records for teachers, doctors, and other professions that are public service in nature and have an outsized impact on people’s lives.
The bill also would allow for the creation of community oversight boards in an attempt to share the responsibility for reviewing police misconduct. Currently, only internal police review is allowed when a police officer is reported for misconduct in the state of Delaware. “The police investigate themselves,” Miller informed, “but you and I can’t investigate ourselves. That needs to change.”
SB 149 proposes more transparency and accountability; it’s one step towards building trust between police and the communities in which they work.
After Miller shared this information, the resident agreed wholeheartedly to support it, and signed a postcard to mail to their representative in the Senate. “It’s good work you all are doing,” they said as they filled in their signature. “Thank you.”
SB 149, along with several other bills around police accountability and reform, come after a year of various subcommittees meeting under the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, or LEATF. The slow progression of those subcommittees was frustrating for those invested in reform, resulting in a letter sent by a group of advocates to legislators. The letter “expressed disappointment that no meaningful action has been taken” per the ACLU of DE.
One signatory of the letter joined the canvassing efforts for LEOBOR reform. Lynne Kielhorn, from the Community Policing and Engagement Subcommittee, shared her support for SB 149.
“Most of [the subcommittee’s] work was on building trust between the community and police,” said Kielhorn. “To me, what would mean more would be if police would come out and say, ‘Yes, we do need more accountability,’ because that message is so important.”
Fellow activist Elaine Archangelo agreed, saying, “Transparency is just a start. The whole philosophy of policing does need to change, but this is a start.”
Not everyone the canvassers talked to on Saturday supported the bill. Some turned away the canvassers, sometimes accepting a pamphlet and giving a curt, “thank you.” But one interaction left a canvasser shaken.
Canvassers always work in pairs for both safety and accountability. One of the pairs on Saturday was comprised of two Black men. Devon Clark, one of the men in this pair, had an easy-going demeanor and was upbeat heading into the canvassing. But when the group reconvened after their work, Clark was unsettled. He shared how one house they knocked on was the home of a former police officer. The man aggressively turned away the pair, pointing to the American flags in his yard, one of which had black and white stripes with one blue stripe, and yelling, “You see those flags? I represent the blue! Get down the street!”
Clark and his partner quickly complied and moved on down the block. On their way back up the block as they returned to their car, the individual was watching them from his porch, with a hand on the holster on his hip.
After hearing the story, Miller emphasized to the whole group of canvassers that their safety is the priority. Everyone knocking on doors should walk away from any situation that makes them feel unsafe for any reason.
The group then discussed how this shows the importance of bills like the LEOBOR reform bill they were garnering support for. The need for trust between police and communities is high. Transparency is one pivotal way to build trust.
“Even though the police are saying no [to accountability], the legislature has the opportunity to say yes,” said Kielhorn. “They have an opportunity to say ‘We hear you, and we understand.’”
Actions you can take
- Register to give public comment; register at least two hours in advance of the session (1 pm Wednesday, June 16), but preferably the day before. Meeting info is here, and the Zoom registration for the event and to give public comment is here.
- Contact your Representatives in both the House and the Senate about SB 149. You can look up your representatives and their contact information by entering your address in the “Who is My Legislator?” box on https://legis.delaware.gov/