NEWARK, DE — Yesterday the ACLU of Delaware organized a public town hall event at the Greater Newark Boys & Girls Club to ask New Castle County residents one main question: “What have your experiences been with the police in your community?” Attendees were given the opportunity to share their personal stories about policing in NCC and offered opinions on ways the system can be improved.
“Our policing systems should keep communities safe, treat people fairly, and use resources wisely,” says Haneef Salaam, the Smart Justice campaign manager at the ACLU-DE. “The only way to know if those goals are being met is to speak to the people directly about how local policing is affecting them.”
The event drew a very diverse and highly engaged crowd that shared a variety of experiences with law enforcement. Some spoke about the excessive use of force they witnessed, while others voiced concern over a lack of responsiveness in urgent situations, citing up to 4-hour wait times for police after placing a call. Overwhelmingly, though, was the feeling of distrust between police and community members and an acknowledgement of the need for change within the system.
The Campaign for Smart Justice is part of the ACLU-DE’s broader justice reform initiative, which seeks to amend Delaware’s criminal justice system by addressing a variety of issues, including police brutality, racial inequality, and unfair probation requirements.
Last year the organization conducted an extensive investigation into “Operation Safe Streets” (OSS), a partnership between the Wilmington Police Department and the Delaware Department of Corrections (DOC) that allows police and probation officers to jointly monitor Delawareans on probation. The investigative report found that the decades-old program has long been a source of terror for the city’s Black and Brown communities.
In speaking with individuals and families who have had first-hand experience with OSS — including Sharee Congo, a mother who witnessed OSS officers violently break into her home and beat her son in 2020 — the ACLU-DE unearthed many instances of excessive force, hostility, and police brutality. In reviewing court cases involving OSS, the organization found several cases in which the officers’ conduct was ruled unlawful.
Despite operating since 1997, minimal official reporting has been released by the DOC or any police agencies on the efficacy and practices of OSS. The most recent report in 2021 came after a 15-year gap in official data and failed to address the many grievances from the community over the years.
“There’s a lack of transparency and accountability in Delaware policing that needs to change immediately,” says ACLU-DE executive director Mike Brickner. “That’s why it’s so vital to hear directly from Delawareans about the impact of these programs and the issues they’re facing in their own neighborhoods.”
The organization urges those impacted by policing to step forward with their stories. More information for those interested can be found at https://bit.ly/police-encounters.
The full ACLU-DE investigative report on Operation Safe Streets can be found at https://www.aclu-de.org/en/news/operation-safe-streets.
More information about the Campaign for Smart Justice, including coalition partners, chapter events, and ways to get involved, can be found at https://www.aclu-de.org/en/issues/justice-reform.