Denn pitches need for police body cameras in Delaware

DOVER — Delaware Attorney General Matthew Denn on Friday continued to push for state funding for police body cameras and new Department of Justice positions.

He made his pitch in an appearance before the Office of Management and Budget in which he also continued to argue for using bank settlement money to fund his crime-fighting plan.

Mr. Denn, a Democrat, had presented a multi-faceted initiative in January to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) that he said would reduce crime by using $36 million received by the state in foreclosure-related settlements from Bank of America and Citi.

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Matthew Denn

That plan was rejected soundly by lawmakers, who used some settlement money from a different pot to balance the budget.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Denn urged the JFC to allocate $2 million immediately for police patrols and cameras in Wilmington and Dover, and Friday, he spoke again about the need.

Under the attorney general’s proposal, the remaining $31 million in settlement money would go to substance-abuse treatment, after-school programs, mortgage assistance and crime strategies.

“There are record-setting levels of shootings and homicides occurring” in Wilmington and Dover, the state’s two largest cities, he said.

Wilmington has seen 138 incidents of shots fired, while the number of shootings in Dover has nearly doubled from 18 last year to 35 this year. The capital also has seen an unprecedented seven gun deaths.

Most of that violent crime can be traced back to one source.

“Many of these cases involve people buying drugs, people selling drugs, people trying to take other peoples’ drugs,” Mr. Denn said. “At least one of the incidents has happened literally during a drug transaction itself, so it’s not the entire cause, but drugs is definitely a significant contributor.”

While JFC, not OMB, authorizes the allocation of the settlement funds — and all money in the budget, for that matter — Mr. Denn is hoping to gain support from a broad audience. He said Gov. Jack Markell is in favor of using an emergency $2 million for Dover and Wilmington and previously backed the January spending plan.

“I don’t know how to handicap the odds,” Mr. Denn said. “I mean, to me, it makes complete common sense, so I would like to think that common sense and logic carries the day.”

His regular budget request is for $53.4 million, a 4.5 percent increase over this year’s $51.1 million.

Some of that increase would go to nine new positions, of which a new Kent County felony prosecutor is the highest priority. The average Delaware prosecutor handles about 225 felony cases, 75 more than the recommended total. That is particularly evident in Kent County, where prosecutors often see very heavy workloads, Mr. Denn said.

Other requested positions include a New Castle County gun prosecutor, a social worker for elderly and disabled victims and a witness protection social worker.

Mr. Denn also spent a large portion of the budget hearing detailing the state of police body cameras in Delaware.

While body cameras could be a tremendous resource for law enforcement and prosecutors, they also pose numerous problems.

Cameras require large amounts of central storage, and, more importantly, add significant cost and time. The Department of Justice handled about 60,000 cases in the Superior Court and Court of Common Pleas in 2014. As a conservative estimate, if half those cases involved camera footage, and each incident required 30 minutes of review, that would produce 15,000 hours of staff time per year — the equivalent of eight full-time positions.

Those numbers easily could be much higher, Mr. Denn said, stressing the 15,000 hours is only a preliminary estimate.

He cited an example of a sexual assault case in Middletown, which produced seven hours of footage. Those seven hours ended up taking 22 hours to review, due to a need to the examine evidence, redact some personal details and turn certain information over to the defense.

Uniform policies among local police agencies also would have to be developed,

Currently, 15 agencies, including New Castle County, Milford and the University of Delaware use body cameras at least in limited fashion. A pilot program for the Delaware State Police has been proposed.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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