Mayor Elorza signs Providence police reform ordinance into law

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence’s high-profile police reform ordinance doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, but it is officially on the books.

Elorza signed the Providence Community-Police Relations Act into law Thursday, a week after the City Council voted 13-1 to approve the far-reaching ordinance. Surprisingly, the mayor did not hold a public event the mark the occasion.

“This ordinance is the most comprehensive community-police relations law in the country and is a national model for community policing,” Elorza, a Democrat, said in a prepared statement. “With so much tension in the air in cities throughout the country, Providence is being proactive in collecting data and in adopting policies promoting transparency, accountability and strong community relations.”

Formerly known as the Community Safety Act, Elorza said the PCPRA “will help make us a better police department and it is an important component of our progressive approach to policing.”

The name change was the most significant alteration made to the ordinance between its first passage on April 20 and final passage June 1. A working group that included City Council members, the mayor’s aides, police department officials and community members met five times to make minor changes to the ordinance, but the intent of the policy remained the same.

The ordinance still 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 bars 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 also dictates how cops should document most of their encounters with the public, explains how officers should handle traffic stops and surveillance, 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’s police union has said it still opposes the ordinance, even though its president was a member of the working group that urged the City Council to approve it for a second time last week.

In his prepared statement, Elorza acknowledged “there has never been a more difficult time to be a police officer as this is a time of great volatility and change for the profession.” He praised the department for working to reduce crime throughout the city.

The group of activists who have fought for the city to approve the ordinance for several years was critical of Elorza, who has repeatedly said the ordinance needed to be improved before it was ready for passage.

Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, the campaign coordinator for the group, accused Elorza of signing the ordinance “in a way that failed to recognize the tremendous community building that went into its creation and passage.”

“Only hundreds more phone calls and in-person comments by Providence residents forced Elorza to back off his attempts to drastically weaken the CSA,” she said. “Once it became clear that the ordinance would pass with enough votes to prevent a veto the mayor finally declared his support for the measure as developed by his constituents.”

The ordinance won’t officially take effect until Jan. 1 and the City Council must still approve a budget that includes funding for measures related to the PCPRA.

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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