Providence City Council unanimously approves racial profiling ordinance

Providence police want better relations with the community, but they are not in favor of a detailed ordinance that would restrict their interactions with residents. (WJAR)

A controversial new plan for police in Providence is a big step close to reality.

There was a standing room only crowd at Providence City Hall Thursday night, mostly in support of a move to put new rules on police officers.

“We have the opportunity tonight to make history,” Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris said.

The main component of the plan, which was unanimously passed by the city council, bans racial or other forms of discriminatory profiling.

“It's important for the city to feel safe because so many of our people have been targeted by this, been racially profiled,” Wayne Woods, a community activist, said. “It holds the police accountable for their actions.”

But the officers union is not enthused about the plan.

“What most people are confusing with racial profiling and a police officer doing their job are two different things,” Officers Union President Sgt. Robert Boehm said.

Community activists who pushed for the new rules note the officers resistance.

“I just don't understand why it is they're saying, 'We don't do it.' OK, so if you don't do it, what's the harm in putting it into law? There is no harm,” Vanessa Flores-Maldonado said. “We also know that is not true.”

The plan also prevents police from helping any law enforcement operation that is solely aimed at immigration enforcement.

It puts restrictions on the police department's gang database, and it requires officers to write reports when they stop people on the street, not just drivers.

“To really track down the data of the stops that are currently happening in Providence,” Flores-Maldonado said.

But Boehm said it's going to slow officers down.

“So the police are going to be tied up doing reports and it's going to get to the point where the police just say, ‘Why stop and ask anyone if I've constantly do a report on it?” Boehm said.

Mayor Jorge Elorza said the Community Safety Act, or CSA, has been refined over months of work, and now does not inhibit police work.

“We feel very confident that it still preserves the tools that our police department needs in order to keep us safe,” Elorza said.

The mayor acknowledged that the force has done an excellent job in recent years.

“We didn’t have one single gang-related homicide in the city of Providence in 2016,” he said. “We’re headed in the right direction. And the reason we’re heading in the right direction is because of the police community relationships. This act gives us additional tools to make sure those relationships are as strong as they need to be.”

The proposal now needs a second approval from the council, which could come next week.

The mayor said he'll sign it.

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