Delaware lawmakers look to require police body cameras

By Matt Bittle
Posted 5/6/21

DOVER — Legislation filed Thursday would require law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and would establish a uniform policy for their use.

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Delaware lawmakers look to require police body cameras

Posted

DOVER — Legislation filed Thursday would require law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and would establish a uniform policy for their use.

House Bill 195 would mandate police and certain employees of the Department of Correction and the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families keep a body-worn camera on them to record interactions with members of the public. The measure also would direct the Council on Police Training to create regulations and standards for the use of body-worn cameras by all law enforcement officers in the state.

The change was formally identified by the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, a body formed by the legislature in June to consider police reform, as an area for improvement last week.

“Body-worn cameras have the ability to be a game-changer in police-community relations,” Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, said in a statement. “They greatly improve transparency and accountability while providing increased protection for both the police and the community. This is why in speaking with various police agencies, it is evident officers want body cameras as much as the public.

“This legislation is the result of a collaborative effort between the community, police, Department of Justice and lawmakers. I’m grateful to all of the entities for working together so that we can realize one of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’ Justice for All Agenda priorities and implement universal body camera usage throughout our state.”

Before the initiative can be put in place, the state must develop a central data-storage program and hire personnel to oversee it. Gov. John Carney’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 includes $3.6 million for development and deployment of body cameras, $1.6 million for additional police body cameras and $2 million for data-storage and personnel costs.

The legislation would add the chairs of the House and Senate Public Safety committees, along with two members of the public appointed by the governor, to the Council on Police Training and would require the body to hold at least two public meetings to solicit input into the development of the regulations.

Nearly half of Delaware’s 46 police agencies use body cameras, and others, like Dover, plan to do so soon. However, there is no universal policy governing the use of the devices.

“The Delaware Legislative Black Caucus made a commitment last summer to advance legislation that will help address the systemic racial injustice and police brutality that has impacted people of color in the First State for far too long,” Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, said in a statement.

“Not only are we keeping that promise, we also have brought community advocates and police officers together to push for reforms that make Delaware safer for us all. As Dr. King once told us, the arc of the moral universe may be long, but it always bends toward justice. This bill is another step on that path and I look forward to seeing it passed in both chambers of the General Assembly.”

There’s been a push in recent years to improve police accountability, and body cameras are seen as a way to protect both the public and law enforcement against claims of wrongdoing or abuse. Pressure for reform has intensified since George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a White Minneapolis police officer last May.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven states currently mandate the statewide use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement officers. Six of those seven have enacted policies in the past year.

“On behalf of the Delaware Police Chiefs Council, I want to thank Rep. Dorsey Walker, along with the other bill sponsors for their leadership and collaboration in drafting this critically important legislation. A statewide body-worn camera program and video evidence repository will make an immediate impact on enhancing accountability, increasing transparency and building community trust,” University of Delaware Police Chief Patrick Ogden, chair of the Delaware Police Chiefs Council, said in a statement.

“In addition, they are an invaluable evidentiary tool in prosecuting criminal cases, as well as resolving internal affairs investigations and improving police performance, when utilized for supervisory review and training purposes. Every police chief in our state is committed to developing a uniform policy that is consistent with national standards and the best practices in our profession.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee, which will hold a hearing on it Wednesday.