There’s a great new police-community relations bill up in Rhode Island. Randall Rose of the Rhode Island Coalition to Defend Human and Civil Rights (CDHCR) has the goods:
The Comprehensive Community-Police Relationship Act of 2014 has just been introduced in the RI Senate. This is the result of a compromise between civil-rights people working on the issue and Rhode Island’s police. It doesn’t have everything that civil-rights people might want, but the civil-rights people who negotiated it are confident that it doesn’t take any backward steps in people’s legal rights. No hearings have been scheduled yet. In the past, many bills addressing racial profiling have failed due to public police opposition, but this time the RI Police Chiefs Association says that they will not be testifying against the bill.
This is a significant step forward if we can pass the bill. Rhode Island already has a law on the books that says racial profiling is illegal, like about 20 other states, but we don’t yet have a law that takes serious steps to reduce racial profiling. As far as I know, RI will be the only state (if this bill passes) that will take enforceable steps to reduce racial disparities in community-police interactions.
The proposed law also includes some other good things for civil liberties:
–Drivers, passengers who look under 18, car owners riding as passengers in their own car, and pedestrians can’t be asked to consent to a search unless there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or unless the police feel in danger. (This does not protect most car passengers.)
–If a person who looks under 18 is asked by police to consent to a search, the police must advise them that they can refuse to consent.
–Drivers stopped for a motor vehicle violation shall not be asked to provide documentation beyond a driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance unless there is reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity OR the driver fails to produce a valid driver’s license.
–Law enforcement officers shall advise motorists who are stopped of the reason for the stop.
–Law enforcement shall document each search conducted of a motor vehicle or person, including the reasonable suspicion or probable cause grounds for conducting the search.
–Law enforcement shall document all so-called pretext stops.
–Law enforcement shall adopt written policies and procedures about the use of video surveillance equipment installed in police cars, in the event that they acquire such equipment in the future.
–In particular, if video cameras are installed in police cars, they must be turned on whenever police stop a driver, and drivers and passengers will normally have the right to view the video.
–All law enforcement agencies utilizing mobile display terminals (MDTs) in their vehicles shall adopt written policies and procedures governing their use.
–Law enforcement will collect traffic stops data for a period of four years, and that data shall be analyzed to determine the existence of racial disparities in stops and searches. Police departments will also report on what they’re doing to address racial disparities in traffic stops. In a concession to police, the law will be changed to say “It is understood that disparities may or may not equate to racial profiling.”
–There are some specific efforts to protect the privacy of racist cops. The data that are being gathered about racial disparities won’t include specific statistics on each officer, and if any police officer is disciplined for related reasons, the officer’s identity won’t be included in the public report on racial disparities.
–Rhode Island’s access to public records law will be widened a little to include: documentation of the basis for each search by police; incidents when cars are stopped for a pretext search; police departments’ official reports on racial disparities; and any formal or informal agreements between law enforcement agencies and ICE/ Homeland Securities Investigations. However, police car videos will not be subject to the access to public records law.