Chief Clements: I didn’t think police profiling ordinance was necessary

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In his first public comments since the Community Safety Act won support from the City Council, Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements said Friday he’s not sure the far-reaching ordinance is necessary.

In a brief telephone interview, Clements also confirmed he was not in attendance for the three-hour meeting in City Hall last week where the ordinance’s final details were negotiated before it was considered by the council.

The chief said he is proud of the relationships his officers have built with the community in recent years and acknowledged he still has a lot of questions about the ordinance.

“Everything is global now and some other cities with these types of mandates are in a far worse place than we are,” Clements said. “Most of what’s contained in this act is what we are already doing. I didn’t think it was necessary.”

The City Council voted 12-0 Thursday to grant first approval to the ordinance, which prohibits police from relying on everything from race, ethnicity and language to housing status or political affiliation as a reason to suspect that 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 council is expected to give final approval to the ordinance next week and Mayor Jorge Elorza has said he intends to sign it into law.

But Clements’ skepticism could serve as a red flag as councilors head into the final vote.

A member of the police force since 1985, Clements is widely credited with restoring morale among the department’s rank-and-file officers since he became chief in 2012. The department has also been recognized nationally for its community policing efforts in recent years.

Clements said he doesn’t want to negotiate the ordinance through the media, but members of the department have raised concerns about the additional paperwork that will be required with the ordinance. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has also expressed opposition to the ordinance.

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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