In June, Delaware lawmakers created the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force (LEATF) to recommend policing reforms, and it recently released an interim report. A key measure was missing that could have saved my brother’s life: public access to police misconduct records.
Delaware is one of the few states in the nation where officer disciplinary records are only known by police internal affair units. That secrecy enabled Thomas Webster to continue abusing Dover residents during the decade he spent on the force. In 2015, he finally resigned after facing criminal charges for kicking a Black man in the face and breaking his jaw during an arrest.
Webster simply moved across state lines and was hired as an officer in Greensboro, Maryland. That is where the fatal encounter with my brother occurred. Webster responded to a 911 call claiming that Anton kidnapped a 12-year-old boy, who was actually a cousin. Within an hour of crossing paths with Webster and other officers who were handling the call, my brother was dead.
My family was shocked and the tight-knit community of Greensboro was devastated. Anton was known as a star athlete who won the state championship for track his senior year of high school. He was the baby in my family with a sweet and gentle personality that made everyone love him. Anton had his whole life ahead of him and it was brutality taken away.
Webster never should have gotten a badge in Maryland. His certification would have been denied had the state police training commission known about his history in Dover. Last year, the former Greensboro police chief pleaded guilty to covering up Webster’s record on his application. It would have been much harder to hide this information if Delaware made it public in the first place.
My home state should shine a light on police misconduct, as other states have done. New York just repealed a similar law, joining Alabama, Florida, Ohio and other states that allow full access to complaints filed against officers and how departments resolved them. Most other states require at least some degree of transparency around these files.
Anton’s death is among the many terrible consequences of secrecy. It undermines trust within police departments. Officers do not know whether discipline is administered fairly and consistently across the department. Innocent people are at risk of wrongful conviction because judges and juries do not know if an officer who built a case has a history of lying or fabricating evidence.
As a citizen, I’m left wondering about the police in my neighborhood. Are they among the majority of professional and ethical officers? Or do they have a record of brutality and misconduct? If I file a complaint, will the department take it seriously or sweep it under the rug?
This change has to be the first step for other reforms to be effective. Changing use of force policies doesn’t do much unless there are consequences for violations. Civilian review boards cannot properly evaluate complaints without access to an officer’s disciplinary history.
The Delaware General Assembly should pass legislation removing secrecy of police misconduct files. Personal information like addresses and medical history should be redacted to address privacy concerns. There should also be a statewide database for departments to access this information before hiring an officer.
Transparent policing is more than a talking point, it is a matter of life and death. I pray that no other family in Delaware has to go through what mine did. Real change can start now by ending secrecy around police misconduct in Delaware.
LaToya Holley is the sister of Anton Black, who was killed by police in Greensboro, Maryland. She currently resides in Delaware. She can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Honor Anton Black: Stop hiding police misconduct records | Opinion
Published at Sat, 30 Jan 2021 01:11:00 +0000