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Police accountability task force members in Delaware express lack of confidence in group's work


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Nine non-voting members of Delaware's police accountability task force say that they do not have confidence that the group will fulfill its promise to change policing laws.

In a March 29 letter addressed to officials involved in the task force, the members say they have lost faith that the task force, which was created to come up with substantial changes to policing laws, will actually do its job.

"We are disappointed to say that we do not have confidence that the LEATF (Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force) will provide timely and meaningful recommendations for reform and police transparency and accountability," reads the letter, which was obtained by Delaware Online/The News Journal.

The letter is addressed to 30 state officials and task force members, including Black Caucus members who spearheaded the task force, Attorney General Kathy Jennings and police leaders.

It's signed by lower-ranking members of the task force who sit on its subcommittees and do not have the final say on what law changes it will recommend to the General Assembly.

The inaction of the group has drawn increased scrutiny: It's been more than 10 months since state lawmakers promised swift and bold changes to policing laws and racial equity in the state.

At the time, lawmakers unveiled an eight-item agenda, which included the creation of the task force, in June after a wave of protests in Wilmington and Dover turned violent in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

Since then, peaceful protests have persisted across the state, but the promises have languished.

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Why task force members want swifter action

The letter comes more than two months after Delaware Online/The News Journal reported that reform advocates and the families of people who have died in officer-involved shootings were disappointed in the task force's pace, arguing that lawmakers have done little to address the root causes of police brutality.

So the letter this week contends that task force members lost their faith in the group's work because it has yet to issue final recommendations to the General Assembly since its first meeting in August. 

The initial goal was to send recommendations in January by the start of the legislative session, according to the letter.

The task force also hasn't done enough to include members of Black and brown communities who have borne the brunt of over-policing and police violence, the letter reads.

Meetings were held during the workday, and meeting dates and times, along with how to access the virtual meetings, were not well-publicized, the member stated.

Also, the letter argued that the task force also has an "over-representation" of police.

Out of the 18 people appointed as voting members, six were associated with the police. Of the 72 subcommittee members, 21 had an affiliation with law enforcement.

The task force was initially created as a way to bring together racial justice activists, police and officials to come up with a compromise in response to calls for police reform.

The letter calls for lawmakers to make amendments to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, a section of state law that dictates how officers are disciplined and how much the public is allowed to know about that discipline.

The letter included a copy of a draft bill with specific amendments to the Bill of Rights, arguing that changes should be made this session.

Crystal Womack, one of the members who signed the letter, sits on the subcommittee focused on changes to the Bill of Rights. Last summer, when lawmakers and the task force initially began tackling reform, she had a lot of hope that change was on its way.

But with each subcommittee meeting she sat in on, she lost that hope as members seemed unable to come to a consensus on how lawmakers should increase police transparency.

"People came with recommendations, people came prepared,” Womack said Tuesday. “It literally feels like stalling. And for what?"

Womack thinks that the only way for the General Assembly to fulfill its promise is to take action without waiting for recommendations from the task force, which she said might not even come by June 30, lawmakers' deadline to pass bills.

"The formation of the task force was not what activists and community members asked for," Womack said. "They asked for action. And I think that it would be a disservice to let the entire legislative session go by with no action."

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What task force members seek for police reform 

The offices of Gov. John Carney and Attorney General Jennings did not immediately provide comment about the letter.

About six hours after Delaware Online/The News Journal reached out to him for comment, Rep. Franklin Cooke, D-New Castle, who co-chairs the task force, released a statement saying that the task force and its subcommittees have been "working hard for months" and that the process has been deliberate and inclusive.

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished so far and of what's coming in the near future," Cooke said. "The work we're doing takes time, but we are making progress."

Of all the police reform proposals, officers have been the most sensitive to changing the Bill of Rights.

Earlier this year, some task force members said that they don't expect lawmakers to touch it this session.

The letter also calls for changes to public records laws to allow access to police misconduct records and the creation of civilian review boards to investigate complaints against officers and review law enforcement practices "without undue interference from collective bargaining agreements and the police union."

The letter asks for the changes to be introduced by the end of April. Lawmakers are in session until June 30 before they go on a six-month break. They also go on a two-week Easter break in mid-April.

The group raised concerns that state government does not have a history of following recommendations of task forces.

"This history, alongside the slow pace of the LEATF, has weakened both our and the community's faith in our state lawmakers," the letter reads.

"The time to act is now. The people can wait no longer for reports, recommendations, or rhetoric."

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Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or sgamard@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.