Community Safety Act

Featured Image: A banner from the Providence Honk Fest, featuring the Community Safety Act as well as the logo of PrYSM. Text: MY SKIN COLOR IS NOT A CRIME Community Safety Act. Beth Nixon, 2016.

The Providence Community Safety Act is a proposed city ordinance aimed at providing greater protection against police misconduct for marginalized communities in Providence, Rhode Island. This ordinance was created by the STEP UP Coalition, which includes the Providence Youth and Student Movement (PrYSM), Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), and the Olneyville Neighborhood Association (ONA). Together, this coalition organizes to fight to put people above police: to fight for police accountability and community-based oversight in interactions between police and people of color, immigrants, youth, and other groups often target by the police force. 
The Community Safety Act reveals a new face of ongoing solidarity between many marginalized communities in the city of Providence that have chosen to fight together against the police-related violence that continually affects their communities. 

Key Points of the CSA

Prohibition on racial profiling and other forms of profiling

Police cannot use race, ethnicity, color, national origin, language, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, physical or mental disability, or serious medical condition as a reason to suspect someone of a crime.

Standardized Encounter Form

Every time police stop someone, they must fill out a card with race, gender, and age of the person stopped; reason for the stop; if there was a search, and the results of the search; how long the stop lasted; results of the stop (ticket, arrest, nothing); and officer’s name and badge number. They must provide a copy of the form to the person who was stopped.

Video Recording by Police

For dashboard cameras, body cameras, and any other devices, recording must start as soon as the officer tells someone to stop, or arrives at the scene where a person is stopped, and recording continues until the stop is ended or that officer leaves. On duty police CANNOT use their personal phones to record anyone unless they are subject to the same policies as department cameras.

Video Recording by People

Police cannot interfere with, harass, or intimidate members of the public who are recording audio or video of police activity in any place that person has a legal right to be.   Any officer who violates this section may be subject to a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a jail term of up to 15 days.

Traffic Stops

Police have to tell the driver why s/he was stopped before they ask ask for any documents and can only ask for driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance, unless they have probable cause of a criminal offense. Police can’t ask passengers for ID without probable cause of a criminal offense. If the only criminal charge is driving without a license, police cannot arrest the person; they can only give the person a summons to appear in court. Traffic violations are not enough to arrest someone.

Searches

Police cannot ask for consent to search a person, his or her car, or belongings without probable cause of some criminal activity. Police must ask the person what gender officer is appropriate to search the person. No canine (dog) searches allowed without probable cause of criminal activity.

Surveillance and Privacy

Providence Police cannot collect or store information about individuals or groups, or engage in electronic or physical surveillance, or undercover infiltration, without reasonable suspicion that the activities they are monitoring relate to criminal activity.

Privacy – Youth and Immigrants

Police cannot ask youth for proof of identification beyond name and address and cannot photograph juveniles (except as part of the booking process if the youth is charged with a crime or through the automatic cameras, like the ones used in police cars).  Police may not inquire about an individual’s immigration status, and any identification issued by a government outside the U.S. like a consular ID, foreign driver’s license, or passport, will be accepted the same as an ID from a U.S. government agency.

“Gang” list

Police must have a written, public list of criteria or factors before they mark someone as a “gang” member on any list or database. “Associating” with someone else on the list cannot be one of the factors.   If police put someone on the “gang list” they must send that person a form to appeal. If the person denies being a gang member, the accusation may not be shared with anyone else including schools, courts, or prosecutors. If the person is not convicted of any crime within two years , his or her name must be removed. Every year, Providence Police must produce a report with the total number of people on the “gang list,” and a breakdown by age, race, ethnicity, and gender, and the number of people who have appealed being put on the “gang list.”

Language access

The Police Department will create a language access hotline. Officers who don’t speak a person’s language fluently, may not question that person until a qualified interpreter is present. Police may not use family members, friends or bystanders as interpreters except in emergency. No Police Department employee may serve as interpreter during interrogation. Miranda Warnings, and all other important written materials, will be available to a person in her or his primary language. At each police building signs must be posted in the most commonly spoken languages stating that interpreters are available free of charge.

Collaboration with other law enforcement agencies

Formal agreements between Providence Police and other law enforcement agencies must be approved by City Council and posted to the PPD website. The outside agency must comply with all the terms of this ordinance. No one acting on behalf of the City of Providence shall assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law or gather or disseminate information on the immigration status of individuals. The Providence Police Department will not honor requests by ICE to arrest or detain any individual.

Accountability and Enforcement

Quarterly reports of all violations of this ordinance will be posted on the Police Department website and provided to the City Council. The Providence External Review Authority (PERA) will have power to review and recommend that Public Safety and Police Department budgets be reapportioned toward youth recreation and job training programs for failure to enforce this ordinance.

The Community Safety Act ensures numerous forms of protection from the police while giving power to people in interactions with law enforcement. This document highlights the main points of the legislation in accessible language. While many of the provisions are general for police interactions, some, such as the “Gang” list and ICE hold provisions, are specific for coalition communities.

This video is an example of the turnout for the public hearing for the Community Safety Act. This video footage highlights the coalitional nature of the ordinance, as well as the broad community support in times of need. Individuals from community organizations are able to “turn out” large numbers of people to both support with their physical bodies, as well as provide personal testimony.

Further Reading

The Community Safety Act:

  • Website: https://providencecommunitysafetyact.wordpress.com/
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CommunitySafetyAct/
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/pvdcsa/

The STEP UP (Standing Together to End Profiling and Undo Poverty) Coalition:

  • Providence Youth and Student Movement (PrYSM): http://www.prysm.us/
  • Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE): http://daretowin.org/
  • The Olneyville Neighborhood Association (ONA): https://www.facebook.com/onaprovidence/
  • The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC): https://www.afsc.org/office/providence-ri

Community Safety and Police Oversight:

Camp, Jordan T., and Christina Heatherton. Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter. London: Verso, 2016.
PDF: http://aworldwithoutpolice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/jordan-t-camp-policing-the-planet-why-the-policing-crisis-led-to-black-lives-matter.pdf

Hryniewicz, Danielle. “Civilian Oversight As A Public Good: Democratic Policing, Civilian Oversight, And The Social.” Contemporary Justice Review 14.1 (2011): 77-83.

Other Community Organizations:
  • Boston Coalition for Police Accountability (Boston, MA): https://www.facebook.com/BostonCoalitionforPoliceAccountability/
  • Communities United for Police Reform (New York, NY): http://changethenypd.org (a group that has introduced their own Community Safety Act as well as other ordinances)
  • Mass Action Against Police Brutality (Boston, MA): https://www.facebook.com/maapb617/
  • Peoples’ Justice for Community Control and Police Accountability (New York, NY): http://peoplesjustice.org/

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