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Providence’s Secret Police

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


A GoLocal investigation found that the Providence Police Department may be one of the least transparent of any police department of its size in the Northeast. It lags far behind its peer departments and has created endless barriers for members of the public to gain access to the most basic information.

In today's modern era of community policing, proactive communications is a key component to identifying crime spots, engaging the public’s involvement, and improving the relationship between the police and diverse communities, but not in Providence, where crime reports and police work are conducted in secret providing little public information. The Department’s leadership often refuse to answer press inquiries. 

The Providence Police refused to answer questions for this article.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Strong relationships of mutual trust between police agencies and the communities they serve are critical to maintaining public safety and effective policing. Police officials rely on the cooperation of community members to provide information about crime in their neighborhoods, and to work with the police to devise solutions to crime and disorder problems."

Social Media Void

Department of Justice urges transparency.

While Providence rarely uses social media to inform the public real-time about crimes or issues of public interest, Worcester, Massachusetts’ Police Department regularly Tweets crime and public information, posts to Facebook, and issues press releases all multiple times per day.  Today, Worcester Police Department’s Twitter page has over 39,100 followers.  In stark contrast, Providence Police Department rarely issues press advisories, and rarely uses Facebook or Twitter to distribute information to the media or the public. Only 947 follow Providence Police’s Twitter page.

Similarly, on Facebook, Providence Police post little news and only has 8,000 likes versus Worcester’s 56,000 Facebook likes. 

Social media was a critical strategy tool for the Boston Police Department in its effort to capture the Marathon bombing suspects and to keep the public informed. The Boston Police Twitter page has grown to over 474,000 followers. The famous Boston Police Department Tweet announcing the capture of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, said “Suspect in custody Officers sweeping the area. Stand by for further info" - and had over 29,000 retweets within 2 minutes.

Cheryl Simmons has filled the void.

Citizens Forces to Fill the Void

For a portion of the City of Providence, the only independent source of information about crime derives from the work of one Providence resident.  In 2010, East Side resident Cheryl Simmons on the East Side of Providence started a crime watch listserve, serving as a de facto intermediary between the police and the District 9 command staff in particular, and reporting the city’s crime stats as recorded on crimereports.com.

Simmons' listserve has over 1,300 subscribers.

Currently, Simmons reports far more information about crime to the public than the Providence Police Department.

Accordingly, the DOJ has urged Police Departments to open and transparent. President Barack Obama’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that “to embrace a culture of transparency, law enforcement agencies should make all department policies available for public review and regularly post on the department’s website information about stops, summonses, arrests, reported crime, and other law enforcement data, aggregated by demographics.”

Video of Providence Police.

Providence’s Actions Are in Conflict with Best Practices 

In light of issues of racial conflict and questions of police use of excessive force, the Justice Department guidance stated, “Transparency is essential to positive police-community relationships. When a critical incident occurs, agencies should try to release as much information about it as possible, as soon as possible, so the community will not feel that information is being purposefully withheld from them.”

The second-most recent post to the Providence Police web page is a story about a hit-and-run posted in November of 2015.


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