STATE HOUSE – Saying Rhode Island should be making every effort to identify and address racial disparities in policing, Rep. Edith H. Ajello is introducing legislation today to reinstate statewide collection and analysis of data about the races of drivers stopped and searched by police.
The legislation would permanently reinstate the data collection that was required from 2016 to 2020 under the Comprehensive Community–Police Relationship Act of 2015 (2015-S 0669aa, 2015-H 5819A), and on and off since the early 2000s under other legislation. Representative Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence) has been introducing legislation since 2021 to reinstate the collection after its 2020 expiration.
“Our experiences in all the years of traffic data collection we’ve done have shown us that, regardless of the policies and training that exist, Black and Brown people have continued to be pulled over at considerably higher rates than white people, and have been subjected to searches at higher rates as well. While this data hasn’t been publicly available in Rhode Island since 2020, we are all aware from the many appalling tragedies that continue to make headlines nationwide that the issue of racial bias in policing remains a major concern,” said Representative Ajello. “This data is important and deserves to be looked at in the light of day, because it provides real evidence and is a tool for the accountability that Rhode Islanders deserve from those whose sworn duty it is to keep the public safe.”
The bill’s requirements for the data are similar to previous versions of the law: During every traffic stop, police would be required to include the race of the driver, as perceived by the officer, and whether anyone was arrested, cited or issued a warning. Officers would be required to report additional information if they search a vehicle, including whether the search was performed by consent, for probable cause or reasonable suspicion of a crime and whether anything was seized. Each municipal department would report the data monthly to the Department of Transportation’s Office of Highway Safety, which would be required to issue annual reports on the collected data, as well as a quarterly summary.
According to a report in today’s Boston Globe, police have continued to collect this data since the requirement expired, but the data has not been analyzed statewide or publicly released, despite federal grants that were provided for that work. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has indicated it plans to proceed now with the analyses of the data for the years for which it received grants.
But states that don’t have laws mandating data collection about race and traffic stops are eligible for only half as much federal grant money.
In addition to enabling the state to receive the full amount of federal money available, passing the legislation is the best way to ensure that the collection continues in perpetuity and that all agencies comply. It also sends a stronger message about the importance of the effort, Representative Ajello said.
“The public’s demand for fair policing has only grown more robust in the years since this law has expired – years in which our nation has witnessed the deaths of George Floyd, Tyre Nichols and many others. Every leader and every relevant agency in our state should be eager to put this requirement back in place and be a party to the effort to improve the relationship between police and the communities they serve,” said Representative Ajello.
The legislation, which has also been introduced in the Senate (2023-S 0368) by Sen. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence), would resume the collection requirement beginning Jan. 1, 2024, but also requires that within 90 days of its passage, each municipal department and the State Police transmit all traffic stop and search data collected between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2023, for analysis.
Additionally, the legislation requires the Office of Highway Safety to create a public online interactive interface that provides visual representation of the data and allows the public to create user-generated analysis of the data points.
It also establishes a 12-member Comprehensive Community-Police Relationship Act Advisory Committee, which would advise the Office of Highway Safety on all matters concerning the act, to include representatives from police and community groups as well as state officials. The group would make recommendations about appropriate assessments for the studies; policies for stops, searches and seizures; and enforcement mechanisms to address any study results.