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Monday, January 25, 2010

Council Adopts New Structure for PERA

Ordinance addresses problems that have stymied the civilian oversight board

The City Council voted on January 21st to approve a substantial amendment to the Providence External Review Authority (PERA) ordinance; it was the second and final vote necessary to adopt the legislation. 

Councilman Miguel Luna, chairman of the Special Committee to Study and Make Amendments to PERA, and Councilman Seth Yurdin, member of the committee, were the key drafters of the ordinance, which they co-sponsored. Councilman Luna stated, “As a strong supporter of PERA, I am hopeful that the changes adopted by the Council will help PERA achieve its mission, and function more effectively and efficiently.”
Councilman Yurdin explained that, “A significant number of municipalities throughout the country have some form of civilian oversight of their police departments.” He continued, observing that, “Unfortunately, discussions over the last few years in Providence had been leaning towards dismantling or severely reducing the scope of PERA, which goes against the national trend that has embraced civilian oversight. The Council stepped in and created a special committee to review the PERA ordinance, and address concerns about its effectiveness.”
 
Key changes made to the PERA ordinance by Council include the following:
1) The executive director must be an attorney-at-law or have substantial public administration experience, or both. [A recent newspaper article incorrectly stated that the ordinance required the director be an attorney.]2) PERA will continue to be responsible for hiring the executive director, as it has since the adoption of the original ordinance; Council will now approve the appointment.
3) New responsibilities for the authority include a) creating and implementing community outreach programs; and b) reviewing and making recommendations regarding police department policies and training procedures.
4) The size of the PERA’s board will be reduced to nine (9) from twenty-two (22) members.
5) The executive director will be able to actively monitor any police internal investigation involving a citizen complaint alleging police misconduct, and any police internal investigation which the director believes would be in the city’s best interest for PERA to monitor.
6) To ensure PERA has access to funds as per its approved allocation, PERA’s budget will be part of the City Council’s budget, and will be administered by the City Council.

The councilmen noted that PERA’s original functions and scope, as prescribed in the 2002 ordinance, have been preserved in the new ordinance. The board will continue to have the responsibility of hiring the executive director, and PERA will continue to receive complaints that allege police misconduct relating to excessive force, inappropriate language or conduct, harassment, theft, or other alleged wrongdoings. Additionally, PERA may still recommend that a complaint be transmitted for full investigation by the authority. “We haven’t taken any powers away from the authority,” Yurdin explained. “We’ve created more options for the disposition of cases.”
 
According to Luna, the Council is preparing to make its appointments to the authority promptly. “We would like as seamless a transition as possible. We’ll be announcing our search for members very soon,” he said.

Background:
The Providence External Review Authority (PERA) was established by Council Ordinance in November 2002 to provide for a system of civilian oversight for the Providence Police Department. PERA investigates and conducts hearings concerning allegations of police officer misconduct.  The Special Committee to Study PERA, created in April 2009, was charged with examining, reviewing, and making amendments and/or changes to PERA’s operating budget, personnel, and regulations, as well as to the PERA ordinance.