Letter to the Editor: $20M grant uses should include police reform


The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice opposes House Bill 39 in its present form.

The bill would distribute a $20 million grant to Delaware police departments, with each department receiving $50,000. The permitted uses for the grant are for police recruitment; promoting careers in law enforcement; initial salary payment of new recruits; overtime payment on issues of public concern, specifically including traffic enforcement; and implementation of programs designed to improve public safety in each jurisdiction.

It is striking that permitted uses do not include police training to discourage profiling or on the proper use of force or to improve relations with the community.

Further, the reporting requirements are anemic, requiring only numbers as to what is spent, how much is encumbered and what remains available. It falls far short of an actual audit. There is no requirement to report what the money is spent on.

It has been almost a year since Senate Bill 149, amending the Law-Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights to provide more transparency and accountability, was filed. The bill did not make it to the Senate floor, in spite of numerous revisions designed to make it acceptable for law enforcement. Not surprisingly, the violence by police against members of the public, particularly African Americans, continues.

Most recently, on Feb. 11, the Delaware State Police were called to Main Event in Newark. Witnesses say at least one officer used excessive force and chokeholds on children. It has been reported that the incident caused three children to be physically and mentally injured.

Delaware’s LEOBOR statute is the worst in the nation for transparency, making the state a leader in police secrecy.

It also prevents community-led groups, such as community oversight boards, from effectively reviewing, investigating and disciplining officers in misconduct cases. No other Delaware public employees enjoy equivalent protections when it comes to disciplinary matters.

Because of Delaware’s law, communities cannot trust that the police will be held accountable for their misbehavior — or that the results of investigations into police will be available to the public.

In January, representatives of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice met with a representative of the Attorney General’s Office to discuss each of our legislative priorities. Police reform was not on their list. At the time, there was no legislation pending, and as of the writing of this letter, this continues to be the case.

Nevertheless, police reform remains a very high priority for the alliance. It is troubling that HB 39 earmarks $20 million to Delaware’s law enforcement agencies for purposes that do not include police reform. At least a portion of those funds should be earmarked toward improving police relations with the community, eliminating racial bias, training on appropriate conduct during police stops and what constitutes excessive use of force. Addressing those issues might encourage the public to join the police ranks.

The public remains very angry that the legislature can’t seem to address meaningful police reform. What are the implications for us that police reform, despite the undeniable need, is secondary to recruitment and material resources, as compared to lifesaving change? Recruitment without a change in policy means no change.

Charlotte King, Steering Committee chair

Clara S. Licata, Legislative/Advocacy Committee chair

Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice

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