The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice held a virtual town hall meeting July 14 to discuss potential reforms in policing and the need for continued dialogues among police departments and the communities they serve.
Event moderators were SDARJ members Bill Collick and Kathleen Baker. Panelists included Corie Priest, community engagement specialist at the Delaware Department of Justice; Matthew Horace, a law enforcement and security expert analyst, and author of the book “The Black and the Blue;” Col. Nathaniel McQueen, Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security secretary, and former Delaware State Police superintendent; and Frank Burton Jr., a retired FBI agent.
The main topics of the night included police reforms such as de-escalating, accountability and a national standard. The importance of community involvement in policing was also discussed.
Burton gave an example of de-escalation when he was on the Camden County Police Department. In 2013, Camden, N.J., was voted the most dangerous city in the country. Police Chief Scott Thomson decided he would fire the entire police department, including himself. Officers would only be rehired after taking a psychological test and proving they were capable of making changes.
Burton stressed how important it is to have change happen from the very top, which Thomson did. Camden’s crime rate has now dropped by nearly half since Thomson’s decision seven years ago.
Panelists also agreed that a way to weed out police officers who are committing repeat offenses is holding them accountable. McQueen said this not only includes self-accountability, but other police officers holding their co-workers accountable and taking action if they see them committing an offense.
One other measure of reform mentioned was a national standard. Horace said there are some police departments where a police officer can have 26 offenses and not be fired, while others are. There are also some departments that hire officers as young as 18 years old.
A national standard would make the process of reform and weeding out potential bad officers much more transparent, said Horace.
All panelists agreed that one of the most important steps to police reform is community involvement in policing. If change is going to happen, it has to start at the community level.
McQueen said there are times when policing can become about power and control.
“When you see those red lights in your rearview mirror, you feel a loss of control,” he said.
The ultimate power and control, however, should rest in the hands of the citizens. This becomes possible when community members work with their local police department to bring about the change they want to see, McQueen said.