After weeks of protests across the nation over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, officials in Delaware County have announced they are forming a group to overhaul the criminal justice system in the Philadelphia suburban area.

The county’s Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform, detailed Tuesday on the steps of the county courthouse in Media, will be led by District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, the first Democrat to hold that position.

“We’re all working together because we have a common goal: To let everyone in Delaware County know that black and brown lives matter, that LGBTQ lives matter,” Stollsteimer said. “Everyone in our county deserves fair and equal justice.”

Stollsteimier said the group will be a “diverse coalition” of stakeholders in the county that will find solutions to make “our criminal justice system the envy of anyone anywhere.”

It will be split into four “working groups,” and will include members of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Chester, the NAACP, and police departments from throughout the county, along with state legislators and community activists.

Stollsteimer said Tuesday it was too early to outline the specific measures the task force will take, but said his office is pursuing sweeping reforms to create a “21st century model of prosecution.” There will be no deadlines for the changes, and the task force will issue reports as they are completed.

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams said Tuesday that the frustration and anger expressed by protesters in recent weeks was rooted in the same fight for equality represented by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams said Tuesday that the frustration and anger expressed by protesters in recent weeks was rooted in the same fight for equality represented by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

“Officers need to be community officers. They have to get out of their cars,” he said. “We know the dynamics won’t change until we have community support.”

The changes proposed by the task force will extend beyond the criminal justice system, officials said Tuesday. One of the group’s focuses will be on county employment, making sure that the human resources department provides a “fair, equal, and diverse workforce,” according to County Councilwoman Elaine Schaefer.

The model of multiple groups brainstorming toward a common goal is one the Democratic-dominated County Council took in January, when its newly elected members sought to reform practices they said had grown stagnant under generations of Republican control.

Schaefer and her colleagues have said these reforms were their intention from the beginning, but that recent unrest spurred the plan forward. The demonstrations in Delaware County have mostly been peaceful, although communities that border West Philadelphia were damaged as demonstrations spilled over.

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, a Democrat whose district includes part of the county, said Tuesday that recent events represent generations of frustrations boiling over.

“I’m an old guy with some historical perspective on where we are,” Williams said. “This is not a few weeks or a few years.”

Williams made reference to previous high-profile examples of police brutality, including the Rodney King assault in Los Angeles, and to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He drew parallels to the frustration protesters have been expressing in recent weeks, and said he hoped the county task force would provide the tangible change the demonstrators are calling for.

“The youth today have expectations for their elected leaders to work immediately,” he said. “Not just to change policy, but to change the culture.”