"George Floyd died, begging for his life and calling out for his mother. It was heartbreaking and horrifying at the same time. He is not alone," said Attorney General Kathy Jennings Wednesday. "Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and so many people have died needlessly."
Jennings opened the introductory meeting of Delaware's Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force - Use of Force subcommittee meeting Wednesday with a reminder to those gathered of why the committee was formed in the first place.
"For millions of people, it was only the latest injustice in a 400-year history of racism that this country has never truly had a reckoning with," she said, adding,"We cannot achieve true justice until each part of our system looks inside ourselves and says...'How do we all come together and change? And I think that change begins by having an honest look inside ourselves, and saying, 'We need to do different. We need to do the things that aren't easy. We need to do the tough stuff."
In 15 years, 56 people have been shot by police, 30 of them fatally, with nearly half those individuals being Black--in a state where Black people make up only 22% of the population, Jennings said. She added 11 of the last 35 officer-involved shootings involved mental health issues.
The task force is part of Delaware leadership's efforts to create a more just, equitable, and balanced policing system, and the committee will specifically examine the Use of Force policies in place across the state's agencies to determine how officers decide to use force, what other tactics should be more readily available to prevent unnecessary death, and weigh how other outside factors might assist with implementation of and adherence to such a policy, like body cameras.
Their determinations and recommendations will then be standardized so state representation can collectively make implementations using the same data sets.
Part of that determination included a 50-state review of Use of Force statutes across the country to see what everyone else was doing in regards to deescalation, duty to intervene, and duty to report, and build off the best practices found.
Jennings specifically pointed to the Jeremy McDole case as a complex instance of Use of Force where an officer possibly could have been charged, but Delaware did not at the time have strong enough policies, laws, and statutes in place to pursue a successful prosecution.
"I know that former Attorney General Matt Denn spent a great deal of time examining that killing, as well as looking at the law very carefully and determining whether he had the legal authority to bring a charge," Jennings said. "As you will see in the Use of Force report, he determined there was probable cause to arrest one officer and it was the officer who file fired first. But he also determined that outside experts--who had, frankly, been on the side of prosecution and the Tamir Rice case--had concluded that our statute would not allow the bringing the successful prosecution of that case, under the current standard in our statute. So I think the Jeremy McDole situation is, in large measure, an analysis of what are the outer edges of when a case gets prosecuted and when it doesn't, and whether this subcommittee believes that there should be changes to the use of force statute in our state."
Subcommittee co-chair Carl Bond, who was a police officer for more than three decades, said there can be a problematic culture within law enforcement to never admit fault.
"I think we, as police officers, sometimes we're afraid or we don't want to admit when we're wrong," Bond said. "I think that's that's the biggest challenge that we have right now is, when we do something wrong, we have to be willing and able to admit that we've done something wrong."
Larry Johnson, another committee member who is also a former police officer and has taught more than 300 officers tactics on the avoidance of excessive use of force, reminded officers the formation of the task force shouldn't be considered a rebuke and taken personally, but only be seen as a step toward evolution and betterment.
"[I'm] concerned by some of the rhetoric that I've heard from some in the law enforcement community," Johnson said. "They say that they are under attack. This could not be farther from the truth. What is happening is that they are under scrutiny, because there is not simply just the 1%, or the one bad apple. There needs to be a reckoning for those who tolerate the 1% as well."
The other members of the subcommittee are rounded out by Marianne Kenville Moore of the Coalition against Domestic Violence, Middletown Chief of Police Robert Kracyla, Prosecutor AJ Roop, Attorney James Turner of the Office of Defense Services, President of the Delaware State Troopers Association Lt. Thomas Brackin, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Delaware State Rep. Sean Lynn, Dubard McGriff of ACLU Delaware, Chief Defender of the Office of Defense Services Brendan O'Neill, state rep candidate William Resto, Imam Umar K. Hassan El, WITN22's Yesenia Taveras, former Wilmington police officer James Wright, and the Latin American Community Center's Steve Villanueva.