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6/23/2015 Assembly approves Community-Police Relationship Act
STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Joseph S. Almeida and Sen. Harold M. Metts aimed at improving relations between the community and police. The bill will now be sent to the governor.

The Comprehensive Community–Police Relationship Act of 2015 (2015-S 0669aa, 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 probable cause of criminal activity.

The bill was in the works before the death of Michael Brown and subsequent riots in Ferguson, MO, in August, but the legislators said 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.

The sponsors say although the practice of collecting information about traffic stops is not new, continuing the process is important because it shines a light on disparities that still need to be eliminated. 

“More than a decade after collection of traffic stops first began, it is obvious that minorities are still being stopped more often, and searched unreasonably more often, than whites. Even though all reasonable people would acknowledge that driving black is not a crime, statistics show that profiling continues to be the norm around our state,” said Senator Metts. “It is alarming and it needs to be corrected. Until the data shows that Rhode Islanders are being treated equally, without regard to the color of their skin, we need to keep track of the problem, take action to fix it and continue working toward a better relationship between law enforcement and the minority community.”

He added that community members and law enforcement worked together for over eight months to develop the legislation, and such groups must continue working together cooperatively to build trust and make communities safer. The police and the community need each other, he said.

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.

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