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Monday, April 17, 2017

City Council Panel Passes Landmark Legislation to End Racial Profiling, Bolster Police Accountability and Oversight

The Providence City Council Committee on Ordinances tonight approved passage of the Community Safety Act (CSA), a community-driven, comprehensive ordinance that codifies into law best practices in police conduct from around the country.  The CSA is considered one of the most progressive pieces of legislation in the United States, exceeding standards set forth by the Comprehensive Community-Police Relations Act passed by the RI General Assembly in 2015.
 
Following last week’s public hearing, the Ordinance Committee tonight adopted final amendments to the CSA that reflect greater input from all stakeholders.  In its final form, the bill is the product of nearly three years of activism, research, and stakeholder engagement. The comprehensive scope of the ordinance makes it the first of its kind in the country.
 
Councilors Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) and Kevin Jackson (Ward 3) led the charge to produce a comprehensive bill that protects marginalized communities and builds trust between police officers and the community they serve. Under the leadership of Harris and Jackson, the City Council solicited input from a wide range of stakeholders to craft this landmark piece of legislation, including the Fraternal Order of Police, members of the STEP-UP Coalition, the Chief of Police, Commissioner of Public Safety, the Mayor’s Office, and the City’s law department. 
 
“Although this process has been long, the result is tremendously worthwhile,” said Councilwoman Harris.  “Through intense, inclusive collaboration, this process brought together activists, elected officials, and police officers to come up with a comprehensive piece of legislation that will soon become a valuable tool in strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and the community it serves.”
 
Among its many provisions, the CSA prohibits racial and other forms of discriminatory profiling, mandates policies for the use of body cameras, brings much-needed reforms to the Providence Police Department’s “gang database,” and codifies into law the City’s longstanding policies regarding non-criminal immigration concerns.
 
“The evolution of this ordinance is attributed to the strong partnership between the Providence Police Department, the Providence community, and the City’s elected leadership,” said Council President Luis Aponte. “At a time when many municipalities are seeing community-police relations deteriorate, we are fortunate to have seen the opposite effect here in Providence. The ongoing discussion we’ve had with the Providence Police Department regarding the CSA reflects the department’s commitment to our City’s many communities. Throughout these discussions, our police officers have never walked away from the conversation; in fact, they have listened at every step of the way and provided us with important insight.”
 
The bill is supported by many local organizations including the ACLU of Rhode Island, Cambodian Society of Rhode Island, Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, Economic Progress Institute, Fox Point Neighborhood Association, National Lawyers Guild of Rhode Island, New Urban Arts, No DAPL Rhode Island, and Showing Up for Racial Justice, Rhode Island.
 
CSA HIGHLIGHTS:
 
·         Prohibits racial and other forms of discriminatory profiling
o   Prevents police officers from racially profiling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other factors
 
·         Establishes how police officers will document and collect data from traffic and pedestrian stops
o   Allows individuals stopped by the police to request and receive a report on their stop
o   Mandates policies for the use of body-worn cameras
o   Protects individuals’ rights to photograph and film the police
 
·         Mandates greater transparency and accountability in police-community interactions
o   Requires officers to inform drivers of why their vehicle was stopped, sets standards for requiring information from passengers, and codifies policy on individuals driving without a license
o   Requires that officers inform individuals of their constitutional right to refuse before asking for consent to a search
o   Requires officers in uniform to wear name tags and to show their badge numbers
o   Requires officers to provide their name and badge number when conducting stops and searches. Allows members of the public to ask for a business card with the name and badge number of an officer
o   Requires the Chief of Police to submit quarterly reports to Providence External Review Authority (PERA) on the data collected from police encounters
 
·         Establishes new protections for juveniles, immigrants, and transgender individuals
o   Establishes right of transgender individuals to be searched by an officer of their gender identity and requires Police Department to develop policies for handling those searches
o   Prohibits officers from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status, and requires officers to accept valid identification from foreign governments
o   Sets standards for dealing with individuals lacking proof of identification
o   Prohibits officers from photographing juveniles under most circumstances
 
·         Improves and codifies policies for use of Gang Database
o   Requires the Police Department to establish policies for determining if an individual should be added to the gang database
o   Prohibits certain factors, such as race, from being included in the criteria for adding someone to the gang database
o   Requires parental notification when anyone under 18 is added to the gang database
o   Allows anyone over 18 to ask if they are on the gang database
o   Creates both an administrative removal process and a formal appeal process for people who feel they were added to the database in error.
o   Requires an annual audit of the gang database to identify any errors and make recommendations for improving its use
 
·         Improves language access for Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals
o   Requires the Police Department maintain its language access hotline to connect officers with qualified translators
o   Requires the use of qualified translators if the officer isn’t fluent in the language spoken (except in emergencies)
o   Mandates policies on officer fluency and defining emergencies
o   Requires custodial interrogations of LEP individuals be recorded
o   Requires vital materials be available in the five most commonly spoken languages in Providence
 

To become law, the ordinance must be passed twice by the full City Council. Councilors are expected to call the first of two special meetings to vote on the matter later this week.