Rhode Island Becomes Seventh State to Mandate Data Collection to Fight DWB

July 26, 2000 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE — According to a story in today’s Providence Journal, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Almond (R) yesterday signed legislation aimed at “racial profiling” at a State House ceremony where he denounced in strong terms the alleged police practice of stopping motorists because of their race rather than their driving.

“No one should be pulled over to the side of the road strictly because of the color of their skin, absolutely no one,” the governor said. “No one should live with that fear. No one should live with that kind of humiliation.”

The legislation, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Joseph Almeida and in the Senate by Sen. Rhoda Perry, both Providence Democrats, bans the practice and orders a two-year statewide statistical study of traffic stops by state and local police, to learn whether racial profiling takes place in Rhode Island.

Under the legislation signed by Almond, every law enforcement agency in the state will collect up to 16 categories of information on every traffic stop. The data will then be used to pinpoint possible racial profiling problems and to craft necessary reforms.

“This legislation will help us gather the data we need to better assess this issue. We want our state to be a place where we celebrate and embrace diversity, where every single one of our residents enjoy the freedoms on which this nation was founded. Unified efforts like the one we celebrate today will help us get there step by step,” said Almond.

Civil-rights groups, who fought and lost on a similar bill last year, made it their top issue in the legislative session that just ended.

Yesterday, Gary L. Dias, president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and chief of police in East Providence, agreed with the civil-rights groups on a key point — the need to learn what’s really happening on the roadways.

“I think the feeling is, everyone recognizes the need for an answer, and the only way to get the information for that answer is some type of survey or some kind of data collection process,” Dias said. “The minority populations in Rhode Island see this as a problem. The only way to address that is to gather the information.”

The legislation gives Atty. Gen. Sheldon Whitehouse the job of gathering data for two years on the estimated 600,000 traffic stops the police make per year, arranging for analysis of the data, and addressing the question: Is racial profiling really going on or not?

“I am committed that my department will do it, will do it right, and will do it effectively,” Whitehouse told the audience yesterday. He also promised to see “that it’s done on time,” with the study to start in January and a report due in May 2003.

However, Almeida, the bill’s sponsor, declared enactment of the legislation to be only the first step.

“All of you,” he told the audience, which included many of the civil-rights advocates who pressed for the legislation, “all of us, have to watch this and make sure the right numbers are used and the right procedures done.”

“Get involved in this,” Almeida advised. “It’s not over.”

The Associated Press reported that a committee of 13 advisers, made up of educators, police officers, minority activists, and politicians, will be created to assist Whitehouse in the study. Updates on the statistics collected will be reported quarterly.

”We’ll be able to target those officers who are notorious for doing that,” said Dennis Langley, executive director of the Urban League of Rhode Island. ”We hope this will be a means of saying to those officers that we’re not going to tolerate it anymore.”

Governor Almond declared, “My administration has made it a priority to address the concerns of the community. By enacting racial profiling legislation, we are taking another step forward in our ongoing mission to ensure that all Rhode Islanders are treated equally and fairly.” (The governor’s full statement is available at: http://www.governor.state.ri.us/News%20Releases/profiling%20rel.html .)

Rhode Island becomes the seventh state to enact legislation requiring traffic stop data collection. Missouri’s Governor Mel Carnahan (D) signed legislation requiring data collection on a permanent basis last month. (See http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w060600a.html .) Tennessee Governor Governor Dan Sundquist (R) also signed recently signed a data collection bill. (See http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w060700a.html.)

More information about racial profiling concerns in Rhode Island is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w060900a.html, http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w051900a.html, http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w012600a.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w020200a.html , and http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w020700a.html .

Information on racial profiling bills being considered in selected other states this year is available at: http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w040600b.html (Maryland), http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w031000a.html (South Carolina) , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w030200a.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/n012400b.html (Washington) , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w021000b.html (Oklahoma), http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w020800b.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w021000b.html (Tennessee), http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w020100b.html (New Jersey), http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w012700a.html (California), http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w012100a.html (Kansas), http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/w122299b.html , http://archive.aclu.org/news/2000/w021000a.html (Florida) and http://archive.aclu.org/news/1999/w122299a.html (Utah).

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