WILMINGTON, DE—The ACLU of Delaware (ACLU-DE) conducted an extensive research project into the history, operations, and effectiveness of Operation Safe Streets, and today the organization released their findings in a deep-dive story that paints a clear picture: OSS’s extreme tactics fail to improve public safety while causing deep and substantial damage to Wilmington’s communities.
The Wilmington Police Department’s Operation Safe Streets (OSS) is a partnership with the Delaware Department of Correction (DOC) that allows police and probation officers to jointly police those on probation and, by extension, their family, neighbors, coworkers, and friends. OSS has been operating in Wilmington since 1997, ruling the streets and instilling fear into the residents in Delaware’s largest city for a quarter century.
Two years ago, Sharee Congo – one of the stories profiled in ACLU-DE’s report – was home with her son, Armani, when OSS officers showed up unexpectedly, raided their home, tasered and beat Armani, and handcuffed and threw Sharee down the stairs — all because Armani was suspected of a probation violation.
“It’s still hard for me to talk about,” Sharee said. “I have nightmares. I still hear my son’s screams for help. They traumatized the whole household, and they don’t even care. They don’t think about the effect it has on families, on individuals… We suffer every day.”
Sharee and Armani’s horrifying story is just one stark example of OSS’s abuse of power. In ACLU-DE’s report, several case examples of people who have been victims of harassment at the hands of OSS officers – both on probation and not on probation – are highlighted. The story reviews court cases, reveals interviews and FOIA requests, and analyzes the questionable tactics carried out by officers under the OSS umbrella of impunity.
Local defense attorney Tom Foley characterized OSS by saying, “They’re cowboys. They make vice cops look like choir boys. These guys play fast and loose … They’re simply using their job title to violate the Fourth Amendment.”
Community members are subject to OSS oversight even if they’re not on probation. In 2018, OSS conducted 9,246 curfew checks and arrested 1,510 people. Of these arrests, 846, or 56%, were of people not even on probation.
OSS lives beyond the boundaries of Wilmington: The program has been duplicated by New Castle County and Dover Police Departments, and a copycat program through the Delaware State Police, known as the Governor’s Task Force (GTF), operates in Kent and Sussex counties under the same framework.
OSS/GTF have been touted as a great success, but this story argues that by any measure they’ve not only failed as tools of crime prevention and community service, they’ve been moral and institutional failures, as well.
“Wilmington’s communities deserve to live without fear of surveillance, harassment, and abuse by police and probation officers,” said Mike Brickner, ACLU-DE executive director. “In our report, we build a case for what we’ve come to know with certainty: we must end the abuse of power that fuels OSS.”
With the launch of this report, ACLU-DE is also calling for stories from more people who have been victims of police abuse of power. They encourage people who have experienced police violence, unreasonable search of home or car, being pulled over without cause, being stopped for no reason, or evidence tampering to share their stories confidentially online at https://action.aclu.org/legal-intake/de-legal-claim.