Local groups demanding police reform


By Glenn Battishill - gbattishill@aimmediamidwest.com



A consortium of community partners in Delaware issued a call to action Wednesday demanding several changes be made by local law enforcement agencies following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

Floyd was killed when a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while attempting to arrest him. The video of Floyd’s death has sparked protests against racism, discrimination, and police brutality nationwide.

Locally, a vigil and protest have been held for Floyd, and local law enforcement leaders have taken part in discussions with the Delaware African American Heritage Council (DAAHC) about police violence and reform.

Wednesday’s call to action came as a result of the “Erasing the Line, Establishing the Trust” conversation between law enforcement and members of the council that took place June 11.

The call to action letter, which was issued Wednesday by the DAAHC, begins by expressing support for protesters and activists calling for an end to police and racial violence.

“As an organization dedicated to leading our community in understanding the African American experience, we stand in solidarity with the protesters, policy leaders, activists, and allies who are on the frontlines fighting for racial justice and equality,” the letter states. “We know that resistance is a necessary part of a democracy as any advancement in our history toward equality is born out of disruptive agitation.”

“Over and over, we’ve witnessed horrific, traumatizing on-the-spot death sentences given to victims of police brutality: #GeorgeFloyd, #BreonnaTaylor, #BothamJean, #FreddieGray, #TamirRice and #EricGarner, and countless other names and stories we may never know. These modern-day lynchings remind us of the deeply entrenched systemic racism and injustice embedded in every aspect of American life. Racism is parading in broad daylight, affirming the legal genocide of African Americans while taunting justice-seekers to dare unseat its 400-plus-year grip.”

The letter goes on to state the “time for change is NOW,” and in partnership with a consortium featuring local faith-based and community organizations, the group has come up with several changes it demands be implemented locally.

The demanded changes include the following:

⦁ Purchase body-cameras for all city police and county sheriff departments to ensure transparency, accountability, and safety of our communities. Develop policies that require body cameras to be actively recording for all police officers who are on duty.

⦁ Ongoing, mandatory, and community-approved anti-racist and implicit bias training for all city police and county sheriff departments.

⦁ Mandate evidence-based/accredited de-escalation training and documentation of this training available through public record. Training should also address officer-to-officer accountability measures.

⦁ Creation of a local citizen review board elected or appointed by local residents with subpoena power and authority to review fatal or excessive force policies and incidents.

⦁ A ban on the use of knee holds, choke holds, and chemical weapons as an acceptable practice for police officers.

⦁ Police officers who discharge their weapon and/or use excessive force on an unarmed person should be suspended pending further investigation. Their names and policing histories should be made available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

⦁ Mandatory background checks for new and current employees of all city police and county sheriff departments.

⦁ Eliminate the loopholes that allow police officers involved in fatal and excessive force incidents to move to a different department without a community review.

In addition to the DAAHC, the consortium of community partners includes Agape International Cathedral, One People, Outreach Christian Center, Second Ward Community Initiative and Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church.

City of Delaware Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski responded to the letter in an email Thursday in which he stated he’s willing to collaborate with the community.

“As the chief of police of a department that has made great effort to connect and serve our minority and at-risk communities, I have been open and vocal about being ‘at the table’ and willing to collaborate,” Pijanowski said.

During the June 11 community forum, Pijanowski said he’d be happy to host a two-day retreat to “provide full disclosure of our policies, training, and culture for feedback.” He added Thursday that he reached out after the forum but never received a response.

“I am disappointed these measures came out as demands when we are more than open to moving forward on any issues as collaborative initiatives,” Pijanowski said. “Every member of the Delaware Police Department is committed to being responsible and accountable to the community we serve. Our officers have proposed, developed, and presented initiatives designed to allow us to connect to the community.”

Pijanowski said his department has engaged in several pieces of “nontraditional policing” such as the basketball camp, coffee with the cops, Safety Town, and other programs.

“There are many more examples of nontraditional policing we have engaged in, all of which demonstrate our willingness to connect with and to serve the Delaware community,” Pijanowski said. “We have expended time and effort to be available, to listen, and to build relationships. Relationships lead to understanding, and understanding leads to positive change.”

Pijanowski added the police department believes in connecting with the community.

“The issues presented are important matters, and the Delaware Police Department is committed to listening and to policing legitimately,” he said. “Connecting with the community to foster change is extremely important, and this moment in time is no exception. As always, we are ready, able, and willing to work with anyone that wants to collaborate with us. We are committed to professional, fair, and compassionate policing, and will always be open to the needs of this community.”

Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin said in an email Thursday that was grateful to participate with the council during the forum, but he’s discouraged that his office wasn’t invited to work on the action steps. Martin said the sheriff’s office already meets many of the demands put forward by the council, including body-worn cameras.

“In my four decades of law enforcement and building relationships in this community, my track record will show a willingness and effort to problem-solve complex problems with many groups,” Martin said. “We are fortunate in Delaware County to have good working relationships with multiple diverse groups, and I can proudly attest to the fact that the sheriff’s office is already fully compliant with the majority of the demands listed from the DAAHC consortium. Additionally, we have already begun the process to address increased citizen involvement, such as participation on several internal processes (minority recruitment and review of policies and use of force).”

Martin said his department’s policies are always based on local needs.

“We are duty-bound to protect and serve our local community, and when we identify local needs – the key word being local – we address those needs, collaboratively,” Martin said. “We recently worked on one of our top three consistent calls for law enforcement service related to domestics and domestic violence. We partnered with community stakeholders, Turning Point (a domestic violence non-profit agency), and United Way of Delaware County to raise funds and awareness, which resulted in the county’s first-ever domestic violence shelter.”

Martin added that in 2019, the sheriff’s office engaged with community partners and participated in more than 130 presentations and initiatives. He said the department’s school resource officers also reached nearly 19,000 students, visiting K-12 classrooms to “discuss safety concerns and teach multiple topics including conflict management (anti-bullying, diversity and acceptance, etc.).”

“The key element for all of us to understand the local needs and work toward collaborative solutions is two-way communication, not simply demands,” Martin said.

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By Glenn Battishill

gbattishill@aimmediamidwest.com

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.

Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.