Delaware State Police

There are 48 police departments in Delaware, and a new subcommittee is looking build the bridge between them and the communities they serve.

The Community Policing and Engagement Subcommittee is one of four extensions of the new Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force spawned by the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus and the General Assembly at the end of this year's session.

A group of police chiefs, attorneys, and other workers in the criminal justice field joined community issues in setting the ground work for what they want to accomplish going forward.

Dr. Yasser Payne, a member of the Sociology and  Criminal Justice and Africana studies departments at the University of Delaware said it is critical they ensure that key voices to the discussion.

"At some point, we have to get folks from Riverside projects and places like Southbridge projects; we ain't got to talk down to them; we ain't got to talk up to them, they are really bright and smart people, they're just poor. We have to get them in the room so they can force us to re-imagine what is possible outside of the traditional paradigm."

Payne said the group needs to make sure they lean on others.

"The mechanisms, the policies, the arguments--traditional ones--are not working. These communities are angry, they're not looking for a band-aid approach. That will actually infuriate the situation. I hope our arrogance doesn't trap us into sticking into traditional forms of help."

The subcommittee spent time looking for ways they could try to better statistically rate police departments achievements.

University of Delaware Police Chief Patrick Odgen said there are two key areas in play.

"I think the success of a police department should be measured in their crime-reduction efforts and their community engagement efforts."

Ogden pointed out there are four dozen police departments in Delaware, but only about a dozen are accredited, a percentage he said he'd like to see go from 25% to 100%.

"I don't want to call it the vast majority, but a lot of departments throughout the state, their officers are being evaluated on how many arrests they make and how many citations they issue. That's where we need to change the mindset. Success should not be based on police officers making more arrests; some departments, honestly, their sole existence depends on how many tickets they give out because they're creating revenue for the town."

Ogden pointed out that accredited police departments need to send out community surveys each year, but the concern is that only a finite group of people tend to return those surveys, necessitating a better approach to get a sense of the community's true opinion of their police force.

Captain Joshua Bushweller of the Delaware State Police said better community engagement for police only comes when everyone buys into the system.

"Every officer in every department should be a community police officer. You shouldn't have to be assigned to a community police unit to practice community policing. You should be doing community policing whether you are detective, an SRO, a patrol trooper, or an undercover drug investigator, it's that mindset. It really should be an organizational mindset where all officers are engaged in community policing."

The group also discussed the pros and cons of student resource officers, programs that were topics of elimination in both the Christina and Red Clay school districts earlier this summer.

They also discussed whether Operation Safe Streets is doing more harm than good in Delaware and how police departments could do a better job in recruiting earlier in educational careers to get police departments to more closely resemble the areas they patrol.

The subcommittee will continue to meet regularly, along with others centered on Use of Force, Workforce Development, and Transparency and Accountability.