Delaware could require police to record interrogations with new Democrat-backed bill
Delaware could soon require police to record interrogations of suspects in custody.
Democratic lawmakers are pushing a bill to create the requirement, which would apply to criminal allegations against adults and children. The recording could be audio or video with audio.
House Bill 215 by Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle South, is the latest proposed law change to policing in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that seeped through Delaware in 2020 following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. The bill has the backing of the police.
The bill would allow some exceptions, including pressing circumstances, if someone refuses to be recorded, if the interrogation is done in another state or if the recording would reveal a confidential person's identity or jeopardize someone's safety.
The recordings would not be accessible to the public. Investigatory and criminal files are already exempt from state public records laws.
It's unclear how much the state would have to spend on the proposal, should it become law. As of Tuesday, state financial analysts have yet to release a cost estimate.
In a statement, Minor-Brown likened the proposal to body cameras — which Democratic lawmakers also want to require — because they increase transparency and accountability while also adding protection for the officer and the person being questioned.
“Interrogations are a critical component of the law enforcement process, but too often, there are questions about what actually was said or what happened in that room,” Minor-Brown said. “It will reduce false accusations and help restore trust in the process.”
The Delaware Police Chiefs Council, which represents all police departments in the state, supports the bill, according to the head of the council Patrick Ogden. He said that electronic recordings may increase the likelihood of successful prosecution.
"When I began my law enforcement career, there was a general understanding that if information was not documented appropriately in the report, the information would be of little use in the courtroom," Ogden said in a statement. "I think the same expectation extends to video recordings at this point."
Nearly one year ago following the initial wave of peaceful racial justice protests that turned violent in Wilmington and Dover, Democrats in Delaware promised to make the interrogation process more transparent.
At the time, they promised to require all police in the state to video-record all interrogations of juvenile suspects and defendants, except under certain circumstances.
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Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.