The Community Safety Act (CSA) did not pass out of the Providence City Council Ordinance Committee meeting Monday evening because, as multiple city officials testified, it is not quite ready yet. The third floor meeting room was too small to accommodate the large crowd that wanted to attend, but Ordinance Committee Chair Terrence Hassett declined to move the meeting to a larger room, such as the City Council chambers next door. Instead, two-thirds or more of those in attendance were forced to wait outside the meeting, in the hallway, unable to hear the proceedings.
Nicholas Freeman, manager of policy and research at Providence City Council, explained where the CSA stands today, first noting that, “There’s been an incredible amount of community involvement that initiated this process and makes me incredibly proud of my home town, this city. In nine years of working for the city council I’ve never seen a piece of legislation so bottom up, brought from the community to City Hall.
“We need more discussion, input and work,” says Freeman. The outstanding issues in getting the CSA into a form that can be passed by the City Council are, according to Freeman:
- What from this ordinance belongs in police department policies and what belongs in the ordinance itself.
- Regulations around the gang database
- Regulations around body cameras and other recording devices
- Issues about crafting language as strongly as possible to ensure that, when this gets passed, it can uphold a court challenge.
Freeman said that there had been a meeting Friday with the STEP-UP Coalition, the group working to pass the CSA, and that his office is still waiting for feedback from the Coalition about the suggested changes to the language in the Act. Freeman’s office is also working to set up a meeting with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the union representing Providence Police Officers, to address their concerns.
For their part, the FOP sent Freeman’s office a letter outlining their issues with the CSA. “It’s important to note,” said Freeman, “that the letter from the FOP references an earlier version of the CSA, and many of the issues raised have been addressed in the current version.”
Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said that he will continue to work to find language “that doesn’t impede our ability to police this community.”
Police Chief Hugh Clement added that his department has “done a lot of innovative, progressive work around policy and the way that we police this city.”
Clements believes that there are conflicts in the present version of the CSA with federal law, case law, state law, CCPRA, consent decree, and policies within the Providence Police Department.
Courtney Hawkins, Providence’s chief policy officer, said that it is Mayor Jorge Elorza’s intention to amend the CSA to satisfy everyone, and that the mayor “does not intend to introduce” his own version of the CSA. Elorza, “really feels that working from the base that the community has brought forth is important and acknowledges the hard work that legislation represents for all community members,” said Hawkins.
Robert Boehm, president of the FOP, said that his organization was “brought to this late in the game” and he hopes “that the FOP does have a seat someplace as it goes further in discussion. Up until today we pretty much didn’t have much to say or to comment on… [but] at this point in time we couldn’t back the way it is written.”
Chair Hassett agreed that “not having [the FOP] involved earlier was a mistake.”
After the meeting I spoke to members of the STEP-UP Coalition who confirmed Friday’s meeting with city officials and said they are preparing their responses to some of the suggested changes to the CSA. They confirmed, as Freeman pointed out earlier, that issues having to do with the controversial gang database were a sticking point.
After the meeting Chair Hassett released the following on Facebook:
The date for the next ordinance meeting has not yet been set.
Here’s the full video of the meeting: