Mayor Elorza: ‘No idea what happened’ with police profiling vote

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A day after the Providence City Council took a surprise vote to table the Community Safety Act, Mayor Jorge Elorza said Friday he was surprised the far-reaching ordinance didn’t win passage.

The all-Democratic City Council voted 12-0 in favor of the ordinance last week and Elorza publicly said he planned to sign it into law. But the council had a change of heart before Thursday’s final vote, choosing to push its decision until June 1 rather than grant final passage.

“I was very surprised,” Elorza said. “I was getting texts and constant updates and following on Twitter as well. I had heard earlier in the day that it was going to pass. I thought it was going to pass. I just have no idea what happened.”

The mayor was so confident that the ordinance would pass that he used his budget address to call it one of the “most comprehensive pieces of police-community relations legislation in the country.”

Some supporters of the ordinance expressed their displeasure Friday by showing up to an Arbor Day event organized by Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, who represents Ward 5. The handful of people shouted “Shame!” at the councilwoman, who was one of the nine who voted to table the bill Thursday night.

“It’s not that it’s tabled indefinitely,” said Ryan, who voted in favor of the ordinance last week. “It’s very much alive.” She said the majority of the council agreed to hold off on the vote after it became clear that there were still many divisions. “The police and the community advocates have kind of polarized and pulled against each other,” she said. “And I think it’s contrary to what the intention always was.”

“It was very disappointing,” said Curtis Pouliot-Alvarez, one the Providence residents who interrupted the event to jeer Ryan. “I think that we need to have a mechanism for our police to be held accountable.”

First introduced in 2014, the Community Safety Act was crafted by a coalition of activist groups and community leaders across the city. The final version of the ordinance was produced after months of negotiations between the Elorza administration, the City Council and community groups.

The ordinance prohibits 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. It also prohibits officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or from complying with requests from other agencies – including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – to support or assist operations conducted solely for the purpose of enforcing federal civil immigration law.

The ordinance appeared to be heading toward easy passage, but council members began to rethink their vote after Police Chief Hugh Clements said he didn’t believe the ordinance is necessary. The Providence Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 also issued a scathing letter to the council Wednesday.

Council President Luis Aponte has said the council will take up the Community Safety Act again June 1. The council also voted to create a working group that will discuss implementation of the ordinance if it’s approved.

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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