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Moore: Community Safety Act is a Solution In Search of a Problem

Monday, May 01, 2017


Providence Police

By the numbers, the city of Providence is doing a good job in keeping crime down. A large portion of the credit should go to our police officers. 

In 2016, the city of Providence had the lowest number of in homicides in nearly 30 years--and none were gang related. Shootings in the city are also on the decline. In 2015 and 2016 the Providence police department seized over 300 guns (getting them out of the hands of irresponsible folks and thus making us all safer) with no officer-involved shootings in the process.

Further, on a national level, the Providence police department is renowned for its community policing partnerships--as evidenced by the department being selected by the US Department of Justice to create a national training protocol for other departments to follow.

All of these points suggest that the Providence City Council’s consideration of passing the so-called Community Safety Act (CSA) is a wrongheaded move that may very well deteriorate community and police relations, handcuff our police officers, and worst of all, make us less safe as a community and a state. (As Providence goes, so goes the rest of our glorified city-state.)

The CSA would authorize the appointed (unelected) Providence External Review Authority to recommend diverting money from the police budget to other programs, such as recreation and other areas. It’s unfathomable to assume that the unelected board is in a better position to recommend police funding levels than the city’s elected officials and police chief.

A Wrongheaded Move

What’s more, the CSA would restrict how Providence Police officers work to prevent gangs from terrorizing our city. The CSA would prevent police officers from using associations with known gang members as part of the criteria for placing an individual on the gang list. Common sense dictates that people are known by the company they keep. If people choose to keep the company of known gang members, they shouldn’t be surprise when they wind up on the gang list.

It’s simply incomprehensible that our city leaders would want to make it more difficult for police officers to rid the city of criminal gangs. Unfortunately, that would likely be an unintended consequence of this ordinance.  

The ordinance also would prevent police officers from asking someone who appears to be under the age of 18 for a form of identification more than once. Again, this is another aspect of the ordinance that would make it more difficult for police officers to enforce the law and protect our citizens and visitors.

Lastly, the ordinance would overburden the police department with voluminous amounts of paperwork as it would force the police officers to write written reports of every pedestrian stop and questioning, including the time, date, event and rationale behind the stop, among other information. That might sound like a good idea at first blush. But the problem is it would force police officers to spend less time on the street apprehending criminals and preventing crime and more time sitting in the police station, since they’d have to allocate more time and resources to record keeping.

Diminished Safety

Curiously, Mayor Jorge Elorza claims to be a supporter of this ordinance. Yet Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements (a highly respected, professional, and competent police officer and leader by all accounts) has serious reservations about the legislation. It’s an odd situation to see a sitting mayor opposed on police policy by his own police chief. Perhaps one could argue that it’s good to have a time of rivals and intellectual diversity is a good thing.

Be that as it may, in this instance, it seems like the mayor should defer to Chief Clements, his in-house expert, on this issue.

On an anecdotal level, it’s hard not to be unnerved by the disrespect and disdain showed to police officers by some of this ordinance’s supporters. It was annoying and insulting to see these folks holding up signs with profanity and disrespect directed at our police officers who, on a daily basis, put their lives on the line to do an extremely tough job.

I’m sick and tired of seeing police officers denigrated. Just last week, wpri.com reported that a Brown Professor called well-respected Providence police officer Michael Matracia a vulgar slur after the officer told him to move his car, which was blocking a driveway on Federal Hill. Whatever happened to kindness?

Making a Tough Job Harder

Of course, not all police officers are perfect. But the vast majority are doing a tough job very well.

There’s no reason for us to make that tough job even harder by placing new, unnecessary burdens on them.

Thankfully, the Providence City Council decided to take a step back and tabled the ordinance until June. That’s a wise move.

Let’s take a step back, have cooler heads prevail, and reexamine and rewrite this legislation so that it actually does increase community safety.

Russell Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both on political campaigns and for newspapers. Send him email at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.


Related Slideshow: Providence Crime By the Numbers - 2016

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