Carney: De-emphasize police use of force, raise dropout age

DOVER — As Delaware prepares to go to the polls, Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Carney has unveiled a criminal justice plan that includes bail reform, minimizing use of force tactics in police training and more community policing.

His proposal, released Thursday, focuses on several initiatives designed to reduce the violence in Wilmington, make police more effective and halt the spread of drugs, and it spreads into the realm of education, with changes aimed at preventing teenagers from turning to crime by expanding afterschool programs and increasing the school dropout age from 16 to 18.

One of the highlights of is a call for greater communication and cooperation between police agencies, something that has been an issue at times in Wilmington.

“The role that each department would play, first of all, it has to start with conversations, collaboration between and among the governor, the county executive and the mayor of Wilmington,” U.S. Rep. Carney said.

John Carney

John Carney

Police partnerships are particularly important for firearm and drug investigations, he said.

With that better cooperation, more officers can be deployed to “hot spots” — areas prone to violence, especially in Wilmington.

The past few years have seen several highly publicized nationwide instances where people were killed by police, with activists alleging law enforcement often targets African-Americans. Many of the victims were black, including a man shot and killed by police in Wilmington last year and another who had his jaw broken in a 2013 Dover arrest.

No officers were charged in the first case, and the officer in the second was found not guilty of assault.

Rep. Carney’s plan calls for providing police more training on how to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations, and the congressman cited incidents both in Delaware and the nation at large when explaining his goal in an interview.

“The emphasis is on taking a step back,” he said, calling such practices “really, really important in light of some of the altercations that could have been avoided.”

He said law enforcement in the state has already taken steps to give officers more tools to handle conflicts without using violence.

While he does not think more police are needed, his main opponent in Tuesday’s election disagrees.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Colin Bonini said the plan “sends a soft on crime message.”

Almost everything contained in “is exactly what we’re already doing that isn’t working,” he said. “There was nothing new and quite frankly I thought it was simply a repeat of what we’ve been doing for years.”

According to the FBI, Delaware ranked ninth in the country in crime rate in 2015.

Reform

A committee created by the Delaware courts is analyzing bail, with the goal of making changes to the system, an initiative championed in part by Chief Justice Leo Strine.

Rep. Carney said he supports bail reform, although he is waiting on the committee’s recommendations out of deference to the court.

Changes would likely have to come through legislation.

In a similar vein, the state is participating in a program to analyze risk for arrestees and determine whether they can be released out into the public before trial. Begun through a federal grant, the risk assessment involves the courts, Department of Justice and other state offices.

“That would be a helpful tool in keeping the bad guys off the street,” Rep. Carney said.

He’s a supporter of other technology as well.

Gov. Jack Markell proposed expanding body camera use for police this year, but the idea failed to gain traction with lawmakers, in part due to cost concerns.

Referring to cameras as providing “a level for the transparency that we’ve never experienced before in law enforcement,” Rep. Carney said he hopes to put them in place for officers, although the expected budget crunch will likely limit the number of new initiatives.

Research shows violent crime involving teenagers occurs most often in the afternoon, after schools have left, and many people believe expanding afterschool activities can help drive down crime.

Rep. Carney is among them, although such programs also carry a price tag.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the proposal is the change in dropout age.

Increasing the age at which students can leave school from 16 to 18, Rep. Carney said, would decrease crime and help more Delawareans prepare for careers.

“I just think that these are kids that are 17, 18 years old and we need to make sure that we’re doing the best by them,” he said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 15 states allow students to drop out at 16, 11 at age 17 and 24 when an individual reaches 18.

Although he expects pushback, Rep. Carney believes the change — which would come through legislation — is “the right thing to do.”

Other aspects of his criminal justice strategy include providing more education and job training for prison inmates and expanding mental health and substance abuse services.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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