Prov. City Council calls for policing reforms, removal of ‘Providence Plantations’ from state name

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council approved eight non-binding resolutions related to race and policing Thursday night, supporting a repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a review of Providence’s use of force and training policies, and a referendum to remove reference to its own city — via the phrase “and Providence Plantations” — from Rhode Island’s official name.

At about the same time, the Rhode Island Senate unanimously approved a ballot referendum on the state name for voters to consider in November.

The proposed elimination of the second half of the full official name — State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — has earned a renewed push following the death of George Floyd, and has the support of Gov. Gina Raimondo. (A House spokesperson said that chamber would take up the matter when it returns in mid-July.)

Several of the items passed by the council require General Assembly action, including the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR), a state law which critics say makes it difficult to swiftly fire or discipline police officers for misconduct.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré told the council last week that because of LEOBOR, the officer who is charged with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis would not be able to be completely terminated from a police department in Rhode Island until a conviction was secured.

The R.I. Senate voted Thursday night to create a task force to study the law and report findings by February, sponsored by Providence Sen. Harold Metts. In the House, Rep. Anastasia Williams introduced a bill to overhaul the law co-sponsored by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.

The City Council also asked the General Assembly to pass a law mandating a “duty to intervene” by police officers who witness misconduct. This item was prompted by Floyd’s death, as the resolution states, addressing the “three other officers at the scene who had every opportunity to intervene and prevent this tragedy from occurring.”

Councilman David Salvatore said while Col. Hugh Clements gave assurances last week that Providence officers would have intervened had the Floyd case happened here, the General Assembly should “play a proactive role to mitigate any possible situation where police officers are put in a position to have to make a decision whether to intercede or sit on the sidelines.”

Another resolution passed by the council Thursday night requested that the Providence Police conduct a review of its training procedures and use of force policies and submit a report to the council, which should include “concrete steps” to improve training in the department. The resolution also asks Mayor Jorge Elorza to bar the hiring of new police officers until the report is submitted to the council and approved.

Councilor Nirva LaFortune, the sponsor of several of the resolutions, said she wants police to be trained in anti-racism and taught how to engage with communities of color. She also said in the future she would support an incentive for the city’s police officers to live in Providence.

LaFortune listed off the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Eric Gardner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and the late Providence Police officer Cornel Young Jr.

“All these individuals and so many more have lost their lives at the hands of police officers,” LaFortune said. “We must ensure that our officers are properly trained.”

The council also approved resolutions urging mandatory African-American history education in schools, condemning the actions of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death, a review of the city’s First Source and Minority and Women Business Enterprise programs, and requesting the Providence Retirement Board conduct a review of the rules surrounding police officer pensions who have been disciplined for excessive use of force.

The eight resolutions were approved nearly unanimously by the 14 members present (Councilman Nick Narducci was absent). Councilman Michael Correia did not vote to approve the four resolutions involving police reform, but voted in favor of the other resolutions. Councilman John Igliozzi abstained from the resolution on police pensions, and voted in favor of all the others.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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