Commissioner Pare not fully sold on Providence racial profiling ordinance

Supporters of the Community Safety Act packed the City Council chambers Monday. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Monday he can’t support an ordinance designed to curb racial profiling by police officers “in its present form,” but acknowledged he’s hopeful the City Council will tweak the proposal before a vote is scheduled.

Pare, who has served as commissioner since 2011, said his primary concern with the proposed Community Safety Act is the possibility that police would have their hands tied by certain parts in the ordinance.

The City Council Ordinance Committee hears testimony on the Community Safety Act

“I understand the bigger picture of community and police relations, more so here in Providence than we’ve seen elsewhere,” Pare said after more than 100 supporters of the ordinance packed the City Council chambers for a public hearing Monday night. “So, we’re willing to work with the council in making sure it doesn’t adversely impact our ability to do the job.”

First proposed in 2014, the Community Safety Act is a far-reaching ordinance that prohibit police from relying on everything from race, ethnicity or language to housing status or political affiliation as a reason to suspect an individual has committed or is about to commit a crime. The ordinance also dictates how cops should document most of their encounters with the public, explains how officers should handle traffic stops and surveillance, adds transparency to the gang list and grants more power to the Providence External Review Authority (PERA), an independent, nine-member board appointed by the mayor’s office and the City Council.

Nearly everyone who testified during Monday’s public hearing urged the council to support proposal, including Ward 3 Councilman Kevin Jackson, whose passionate plea to his colleagues to pass the ordinance was met with lengthy applause from the crowd.

Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, the campaign coordinator for Community Safety Act, said was disappointed some of the concerns raised by Pare haven’t come up over the past two years as community leaders, the City Council and the Elorza administration have negotiated the ordinance behind the scenes. She acknowledged she still has concerns about certain parts of the proposal, but said she would like to see it approved by the council.

“Some of us need this now,” Flores-Maldonado said. “And they can’t wait anymore.”

The City Council Ordinance Committee hasn’t scheduled a vote on the ordinance, but City Council President Luis Aponte confirmed the committee could set a meeting to vote as early as this week. He said the ordinance may still need minor changes, but expressed support for the proposal.

Shannah Kurland, a community lawyer who has been a fierce advocate for the ordinance, said a vote is overdue.

“We need to do this to be a tool to help prevent the kinds of tragedies that are happening and things even worse that could happen anytime,” she said.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan