A bill looking to revise the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights has been reintroduced by state Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, but it’s undergone some changes since it last appeared in the General Assembly process.
“The original version of Senate Bill 149 that I filed late last spring was, I would say, a very progressive piece of legislation, in the sense that it was very wide open in its approach to transparency and accountability. It made all law enforcement’s disciplinary records available to the public–really, records of any kind,” Lockman said. “Then, it also introduced some language enabling the formation of Community Review Boards, and those Community Review Boards were left up to localities to form them and had a very broad scope of powers, so they could potentially be formed with subpoena power and the ability to completely, essentially run the disciplinary process, if that locality so chose.”
Most noticeably, the edge is shaved off some of the provisions regarding how much information is available relating to accusations against officers, and Community Review Board formation and power designation. Lockman said critics of the original legislation said too much power was transitioned to the public.
Delaware Association of Chiefs of Police Replay to General Assembly pg. 1
“What this substitute does that I introduced yesterday, is scales that back. So what you’re seeing in the area of what records would be publicly available through the FOIA process are what we call ‘serious and substantiated records,'” Lockman said. “There’s a list in the bill that defines what are serious offenses. ‘Substantiated’ means that the discipline has gone through the agency’s internal investigation process, and then proven as substantiated, as having occurred. So that is a more limited set of records that are ‘FOIA-ble.’ To the Community Review Board aspect of the bill, instead of just having enabling language for localities to potentially pursue, what it says is that essentially we’ll have a two-tiered system. There’s enabling language for localities, though it scales back to potential powers that they could assign to the Community Review Board. There’s not subpoena power at that level, and the ability to completely adjudicate disciplinary complaints is not there, as well. But there is a state-level Community Review Board that is established, and that Community Review Board has the ability to conduct reviews of complaints.”
With these changes, Lockman hopes to see the bill pass General Assembly muster more easily. After filing the initial legislation and seeing it released from committee, the senator said she recognized more modifications were necessary before the bill would pass in a full floor vote, and there was more work to be done.
“We certainly had a good amount of support and excitement, but there were also significant concerns about some of the tenets of that bill that, I suppose, one could say went ‘too far too fast,’ or just other questions about how this process would play out, Lockman said. “We looked at other places in the nation that are doing it, and how that’s working for them…The commitment was made very early–I would say actually, in that committee hearing from which it was released–that further stakeholder work would be done to figure out what some of those concerns were and how we could address them, essentially evolving the bill a bit to a place where there would be a comfort level for voting on it and advancing it.”
She feels like the bill now has that support and doesn’t mind the slimming down of provisions initially, if it means progress becomes more palatable for all involved. Baby steps up front can lead to longer, lasting journeys for legislation and provide a launchpad for future change.
“Obviously, the original bill set forth a really strong vision, and that’s something that I’m glad for; I think, of course, sometimes in policymaking–especially on really heavy and important issues like this–you end up having to take some shorter steps to get there,” Lockman said. “I think that helps us to understand what we’re doing, and to also lay a foundation for new approaches in government. We can see how they work, and continue to improve upon them.”