Chief Clements: Providence police ‘can manage’ revised profiling ordinance

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence’s police chief said Friday he is not opposed to the revised version of a police profiling ordinance that the City Council passed Thursday night, despite opposition from rank-and-file police union members.

“The language is at a point where I think we can manage,” Col. Hugh Clements told Eyewitness News. Clements and Sgt. Bob Boehm, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, were both members of a working group to revise the ordinance, previously called the Community Safety Act.

After initially saying he saw “no major issues” with the new ordinance – now renamed the Providence Community-Police Relations Act – Boehm sent a letter to city councilors hours before the vote on Thursday indicating the union was still against it.

“It became clear that there was not enough time to address all the issues raised by our members,” Boehm wrote in the letter. “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.”

The revised ordinance passed 13-1 on Thursday. A spokesperson for Mayor Jorge Elorza said he plans to sign it.

“This is an unnecessary ordinance,” Boehm told Eyewitness News on Friday. “We don’t feel it’s needed…it’s a slap in the face of the officers.” Boehm indicated the union would be speaking further on Monday.

The union’s opposition was the driving force behind the tabling of the CSA before its second vote back in April, in part because of concerns over new reporting requirements to document interactions with the public. The union also opposed language that regulated who could be included on the department’s gang database, and a prohibition on photographing people who “appear” to be under 18, unless they are suspected of a crime.

The revised version prohibits photographing minors actually confirmed to be under 18, with the same exceptions. It still allows people to appeal their inclusion on the gang database, and requires police to notify a parent or guardian if someone under 18 is being placed on the gang database.

“I absolutely understand their concerns,” Clements said Friday. “It’s complicated.” He had previously voiced his own concerns about the original version of the CSA, saying he didn’t think it was necessary.

“We’ll work our way through it,” Clements said, pointing out that the department has six months to implement the ordinance. “Every person who we think should be on the Providence gang list will go on that gang list.”

Clements also said he has received assurances from the City Council that amendments can be made if issues arise.

“They’re open to modifications,” Clements said. “In the end, it’s tough stuff. But I think we all want the same thing – the best public safety we can provide this community.”

Boehm said he’s waiting to see if modifications will really be considered. “The trust between the police union and the city is not there,” he said.

Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare has also said he supports the ordinance.

At its most basic level, the PCPRA defines how police officers should conduct themselves while interacting with the public. It prohibits police from profiling people based on race, ethnicity, political affiliation and a host of other categories as a reason for suspecting the person has committed a crime or is about to do so. The ordinance was first introduced in 2014 but has undergone numerous changes.

Once it’s signed by the mayor, the ordinance will go into effect Jan. 1.

Dan McGowan contributed to this report.