LEOBOR changes back on the table in Delaware General Assembly
DELAWARE – Police reform is back on the table in the Delaware General Assembly.
What State Senator Elizabeth Lockman is calling an “erosion” of public trust in law enforcement, is exactly what she tried to tackle with Senate Bill 149 last session. The legislation would have made major changes to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR). “It’s not that [bill proponents] don’t want to have policing in our communities. But, they want to be able to feel that they can trust the way that that’s being practiced,” said Sen. Lockman.
This time around, Sen. Lockman is introducing Senate Substitution 1 for SB 149. She says the substitution tightens up the language in the original bill, and rolls back some of the previously proposed changes. “The original Senate Bill 149 that I filed last year really made all records public, regardless of substantiation,” said Sen. Lockman. “It also provided for the establishment of community review boards by localities. It was purely enabling language.”
Changes and Compromise
Now, the records made available to the public will be limited to police misconduct allegations that are serious and have been substantiated. “There is a set of defined, serious items that we think are most pressing,” said Sen. Lockman.
Another change involves the community review boards, which would have been tasked with overseeing investigations into police misconduct allegations. “A locality can still establish a community review board. The powers that that entity can have are abbreviated,” said Sen. Lockman. “There is a state level entity that is established, and defined in much more detail, which does have the power to conduct reviews of complaints.”
The Public Weighs In
The changes come after several meetings between Sen. Lockman, other legislators, and public stakeholders. “Creating that meaningful partnership between the community and public servants in law enforcement can really make great strides in improving [trust],” said Sen. Lockman. “It’s really about making sure that we feel confident that agencies are doing the right things, and if they’re not, then we can change that.”
Sen. Lockman says the compromise doesn’t come as a surprise. “From the beginning, it was pretty clear that there were going to be some amendments necessary in order to advance the bill,” she said. “I totally sympathize with some of the consternation around not being able to go all the way to where the original bill went. But, I think it’s extremely important to lay this foundation and start to see that in practice.”
The senator says she is expecting to see pushback on all sides of the issue. That includes those asking for more power for community review boards, and for more records to be made available. Sen. Lockman also says she’s expecting law enforcement to offer more perspective on how any changes made to the LEOBOR will work operationally.
Concerns Over Change
However, not all lawmakers are on board with the changes, even if they have been scaled down. “If they’re trying to solve a problem in other jurisdictions that have problems with police integrity, then that’s where you go – to those jurisdictions. I don’t see them here in Delaware,” said State Representative Steve Smyk.
Rep. Smyk says the LEOBOR was designed to make sure that officers accused of misconduct have due process, just like anyone else. “I think that we always should take a look at whatever a bill that’s redacting or modifying current legislation, take a look at the history that’s involved,” he said. “We don’t want to recreate problems that were already solved in the past. That’s the worst thing for a statesman to do to the public.”
The bill is now the Delaware General Assembly’s Ready List, meaning lawmakers will consider it soon. If the bill is passed, it would go into effect upon being signed by Governor John Carney.