Task force debates whether modern police agencies should apologize for previous injustices

Sean Greene Via WDEL

A task force subcommittee aiming to improve the relationship between police and their communities took on the question of whether agencies should apologize for previous injustice from years ago, or in other eras.

The Community Police and Engagement Subcommittee of the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force continued their work on that issue Tuesday night.

University of Delaware Police Chief Patrick Ogden said he has asked his department their thoughts on the matter after it came up at January's meeting.

"I've gone back to other police officers and asked them what they think about this. I haven't received very much support for saying 'we apologize for the wrongs that we had nothing to do with.'"

Rita Paige of the NAACP's Central Branch said if police forces don't want to wipe the past clean, it adds skepticism in her mind.

"I would think then that you're of the mindset that you don't want to move forward with a change towards community policing and a different mentality if you want acknowledge that what was done in the past was not in the best interest of all."

A 33-year police veteran, Ogden said that there already are acknowledgements that police haven't been perfect. He pointed out 145 officers who he said have been decertified in Delaware since 1999.

"I don't know if apologizing is the right thing, but I think that when injustice happens it is dealt with swiftly. People are decertified, terminated, demoted, or whatever the appropriate course of action is."

He said don't mistake that for thinking UD Police wouldn't immediately apologize if they did something wrong, now.

"If some bad incident were to happen in my department, there would be swift action for the officer behind, and there would be an apology, when an apology is appropriate, 100%."

Seaford's Police Department has started a series of Courageous Conversations within the community, and Lynne Kielhorn of the Police and Justice Work Group promoted that alternative--even if the word "apologize" isn't said.

"Begin those really tough conversations with the community that do acknowledge the role of past policing in creating the lack of trust between community and police."

Ogden tried to push any thought of recommending an apology out of the recommendation for the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, asking if this means lawyers, doctors, teachers, and others should also be required to specifically address the errs of their predecessors.

"I'll turn it around to all of you, too. No matter what your profession is, if something happened would you want to apologize for something you don't stand behind and you had nothing to do with? That's just the way I feel."

The subcommittee also discussed whether strict enforcement of laws can have negative effects on the image of a department and whether officers would be served to be seen more often in quieter times on their beats, to try to build trust

that could help when times are tougher.

The next meeting of the Community Policing and Engagement Subcommittee is set for March 8, 2021 at 6 p.m. They expect to devise preliminary recommendations at that meeting.

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