- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A racial profiling bill that has stalled in past years now has support from minority advocates and top law enforcement, who told Rhode Island lawmakers Tuesday that the compromise legislation would help improve relations between the community and police.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a new version of a bill that targets racial profiling in police stops of drivers and pedestrians.

The legislation sponsored by Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, would standardize stop procedures and require officers to document in writing their “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” basis for conducting searches.

It would re-establish the collection of traffic stop data, including an annual report by state and local law enforcement agencies to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, documenting any actions taken to address racial disparities.

The bill also requires video recording of traffic stops by law enforcement equipped to do so, though officials said that technology isn’t presently used in Rhode Island.

The committee voted to hold the bill for further study. Chairman Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, directed members of the work group to reach out to two police unions, whose representatives testified against the measure because they said they were left out of discussions leading up to it and have some concerns.

A work group of law enforcement and others met from September to March to hammer out a compromise, and several of its members testified Tuesday.

“We think it’s good for both policing and the community,” Steven Pare, public safety commissioner in Providence, told the panel.

The bill also drew support from the Rhode Island State Police, the state Human Rights Commission and the nonprofit Rhode Island for Community & Justice.

The Transportation Department also has a concern over language calling on the agency to conduct a routine study of traffic stop data to determine if racial disparities exist. Spokeswoman Rose Amoros said that while the agency supports the “spirit and intent” of the legislation, it has reservations about its role managing and analyzing such data.

“The latter is outside our area of expertise,” she said in an email.

Racial profiling was banned in Rhode Island in 2004 but has persisted. A report by Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice, released in January, found that minorities in most Rhode Island communities were more likely to be pulled over than whites for traffic stops but less likely to be cited for a violation. They were also more likely to be searched, though the search data was limited.

The report, which followed up on a 2004-2005 study, analyzed over 150,000 traffic stops across the state during nine months in 2013. The new report found that the majority of agencies had the same level of disparity as in the earlier study.

Metts‘ legislation notes that racial disparities in traffic stops don’t necessarily equate to profiling.

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