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6/17/2015 House approves Community-Police Relationship Act
STATE HOUSE – The House today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Joseph S. Almeida aimed at improving relations between the community and police.

The Comprehensive Community–Police Relationship Act of 2015 (2015-H 5819A) will require all police departments to continue to collect data on race at traffic stops and to submit to the Department of Transportation’s Office of Highway Safety an annual report indicating what action has been taken to address any racial disparities in traffic stops and searches documented in previous reports.

The legislation also prohibits “consent searches” of juveniles without reasonable suspicion or probably cause of criminal activity.

The legislation was in the works before the death of Michael Brown and subsequent riots in Ferguson, MO, in August, but Representative Almeida said he believes those incidents as well public unrest following other high-profile deaths of young black men at the hands of police in recent months have been an indication that significant work is needed to establish trust between law enforcement and the minority community.

“People of color need to feel that the police are there to help them, not that they’re out to get them. But we have a long way to go before we get there. Police departments have to recognize when profiling is happening and have to commit to making it a thing of the past to earn the trust of the community. This bill is about collecting the facts, working to address the problems and treating people fairly so that all Rhode Islanders can feel that public safety really is for their safety,” said Representative Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence), who is a retired Providence police officer.

A 2014 study by Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice found that police are more likely to pull over people of color than white drivers in a majority of Rhode Island communities, but less likely to give them a ticket. The study, which reviewed more than 150,000 traffic stops made by 39 police agencies during a nine-month period the previous year, found similar statewide patterns as those reported in a 2004-05 study. Among those findings is that minorities were pulled over at a disproportionate rate when comparing the driver’s race to the racial makeup of the city or town where the stop was made.

The legislation requires that each search conducted by a law enforcement officer be documented and should include the date, time and location of the search, along with the reasonable suspicion or probable cause leading to the search.

The bill requires that the driver or passenger of a vehicle that has been recorded with video/audio equipment, and his or her attorney, will have the right to view the recording provided that the viewing does not compromise an active investigation. The legislation also sets a policy that addresses the period of retention of such recordings.

The continued collection of data by police departments would begin in July 2016 and reports on each stop would be required to include the race and ethnicity of the driver, based on the officer’s perception. The Office of Highway Safety would be required to issue annual reports on the collected data, as well as a quarterly summary report of the monthly data provided by each police department.

Finally, the bill establishes a specific procedure and protocol for searches of juveniles without a warrant. Under the legislation, no juvenile will be requested to consent to a search by law enforcement unless there exists reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity. In those instances where a warrant would otherwise be required, a law enforcement officer must advise the juvenile that he or she may refuse to consent to, or limit the scope of, any requested search.

Representative Almeida was the sponsor of the original 1999 law that required police to begin collecting race data at traffic stops, as well as subsequent bills to continue the collection and efforts to address the disparities it has documented.

The bill will now go to the Senate, which approved similar legislation (2015-S 0669aa) sponsored by Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) on May 26.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923