Providence police union opposes profiling ordinance

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With the Providence City Council poised to vote on a far-reaching police profiling ordinance Thursday, the city’s police union is saying it can’t support the proposal.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, the Providence Fraternal Order of Police said it is willing to discuss the Community Safety Act (CSA) with the council, but the current proposal “hampers our officers’ abilities.”

The union said it believes in the “fair and lawful” treatment of citizens, but “we would like to be able to perform our jobs within the confines of laws and ordinances that don’t restrict our ability to effectively interact with the good people of the city, as well as to investigate criminal activity that affects the quality of life in their neighborhoods and to continue providing professional public safety service.”

The City Council Ordinance Committee voted 5-0 on Monday to support the CSA, which prohibits 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 police department’s 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.

The City Council must approve the ordinance twice before it heads to Mayor Jorge Elorza’s desk. Elorza has indicated he will sign the ordinance into law.

The CSA was first introduced in 2014 and has undergone significant changes over the last three years. It is backed by a diverse group of community leaders and activists who argue the police department needs to improve its relationship with residents of the city, particularly minorities.

The union’s statement didn’t specifically identify any specific provisions it opposes, but it expressed concern that union leaders have not been included in many of the behind-the-scenes negotiations of the ordinance.

The union said its first meeting with the ordinance’s sponsors came during a three-hour meeting last Friday, days before the proposal won passage from the committee.

“It is our opinion that there are some clauses in this ordinance language that does not help alleviate barriers between citizens and police, but rather perpetuates them,” the statement 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