The Community Safety Act (CSA), a “comprehensive city ordinance to ban racial profiling and change the way that police interact with members of [the] community,” was passed out of the Providence City Council Ordinance Committee on a 5-0 vote. About 75 people packed the small meeting room on the third floor of Providence City Hall for an emotional hearing. Many held signs in support of the CSA.
Early in the proceedings Nicholas Freeman, manager of policy & research for the Providence City Council outlined some of the compromises written into the ordinance resulting from a three-hour meeting on Friday.
To address Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré‘s concerns about pretext stops, that section was removed. Language was added to the section on the gang database that allowed Paré to accept that section of the CSA. As for issues related to translation/interpretation, language was added to the ordinance that would allow an officer fluent in a language to act as interpreter. The commissioner also had reservations about paying attorneys fees in the event of a successful lawsuit against the city for violations of the ordinance. That section was removed to address the commissioner’s concerns. Lastly, the sections concerning suppression of evidence were overhauled per Paré’s concerns.
On behalf of concerns brought by the communities in support of the CSA, clarifications were made regarding the definition of language fluency. Also, language was added mandating that the Providence Police Department develop and maintain policies assuring that transgender individuals have the right to be searched by an officer of their gender identity.
Freeman called these concessions “major strides” towards agreement on the CSA between the police and the community. At the end of Friday’s meeting, said Freeman, Paré had agreed to support the ordinance if the agreed upon changes were made.
Despite what Freeman said, when Commissioner Paré spoke to the Ordinance Committee, he said he wanted to await the legal opinion of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin‘s office on the language changes before he would support the ordinance, much to the consternation community supporters.
When Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, campaign coordinator of the STEP-UP Coalition, spoke to the Ordinance Committee, she said that Paré’s last minute request for an opinion from the Attorney General was very “confusing, frustrating and alarming.”
“We didn’t even know [Paré] was going to speak at this [meeting],” said Flores-Maldonado, adding that supporters were “blindsided” by Pare’s objections.
Before the meeting, the position of Councilors Bryan Principe and Jo-Ann Ryan on the CSA was unknown. At the meeting, Principe announced his unqualified support for the ordinance to loud cheers. Ryan nodded in agreement. Both voted in favor.
After the CSA passed, as those in attendance broke out in applause and cheers, East Side City Councilor Kevin Jackson was in tears. He held Councilor Mary Kay Harris‘s hand and hugged her. Both have been stalwart supporters of the CSA.
The CSA now needs to be approved by the Providence City Council twice and get the signature of Mayor Jorge Elorza to become law. The first City Council vote is expected Thursday, April 20 at 7pm.
You can watch the full Ordinance Committee discussion and vote below: