Providence City Council approves police anti-profiling measure

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A controversial ordinance designed to prevent racial profiling by Providence police was approved by the City Council Thursday night by a 13-1 vote.

Now known as the Providence Community-Police Relations Act, the far-reaching measure prohibits officers 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 was the council’s second and final vote on the ordinance, having given it initial approval back in April. Soon after, the council voted to table what was then known as the Community Safety Act for further discussion.

The measure was reintroduced earlier this week with some changes and a new name.

One notable change is a provision that would have prohibited police from photographing people who appear to be under the age of 18. Now, that’s been amended to say officers cannot photograph anyone confirmed to be under 18.

Another highly controversial piece of the puzzle involved the gang database. A new change stipulates “no police department can identify someone as a gang member in written notes unless that person meets the criteria to be included in the database.”

Supporters say the ordinance is a step in the right direction towards accountability.

“I’m not aware of any other city that has an ordinance this robust in terms of protecting the community and protecting people and giving people in the community rights and responsibilities,” said James Vita, a defense attorney.

Mikaila Arthur, a Providence resident, said the measure was important, because it holds the police to high standards, similar to those in any other professional industry.

The Fraternal Order of Police called the initial proposal a “slap in the face.” Prior to the vote on Thursday, the union released a statement saying the measure as written still has unresolved issues and members still could not get behind it.

“With no more meeting scheduled due to the June 1 deadline and with one day given to address the questions and concerns of 388 members at the informational meetings, it became clear that there was not enough time to address all the issues raised by our members. With insufficient time for the FOP body to read and digest the newly proposed ordinance and concerns remaining, the Providence Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 cannot support the PCPRA.”

Mayor Jorge Elorza has said he’ll sign the act into law.

The Philadelphia-based American Friends Service Committee says the ordinance is a model “for what local and state governments can do to prevent racial profiling.”