Providence’s police reform ordinance has taken effect

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A new ordinance that made sweeping changes to how Providence cops do their jobs took effect Monday, but Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said the police department still hasn’t finalized its gang database policy.

Pare said the police department will not have an active gang database until a policy that complies with the Providence Community-Police Relations Act (PCPRA) is completed. He said the policy is still in draft form, but should be firmed up by the end of the month.

“We implemented the applicable requirements in compliance with the PCPRA,” Pare wrote in an email to Eyewitness News. “The outstanding issue is the gang database policy that will be implemented in 30 days.”

The PCPRA 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 provision in the PCPRA that has not yet been implemented revolves around the police department’s gang database, an intelligence tool officers use to track gang members. The ordinance allows individuals to inquire whether they’re considered gang members and gives them the right to appear their inclusion on the list.

The ordinance also requires police to provide written notice anyone added to the list who under the age 18 as well as their parent or guardian.

Pare said the police department plans to seek feedback on its plan for implementing a policy around the gang database from its advisory board within the next three weeks.

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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