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Providence PD settles gang database lawsuit, revises policy


(file photo)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Police Department has changed its policy for including a person in its gang database as part of a settlement reached with a group that sued over the list of gang members the department maintains.

The new policy about the gang database — formally known as the intelligence assessment database — has much stricter criteria for a person to be included in the database, which police officers can access in the course of their law enforcement duties.

The Providence Youth Student Movement, or PrYSM, filed the suit last year against the city, claiming the database included people based on mere association with alleged gang members, violating their right to freedom of association. It also alleged racial profiling by police.

The old policy, which had a point system for inclusion in the database, used criteria such as “appearance in gang-related photographs,” “contributor in gang-related publications” or being “named as a gang member in gang-related information from an anonymous informant or tipster.”

A 2017 ordinance called the Providence Community-Police Relations Act (PCPRA) — formerly known as the Community Safety Act — prohibited police from putting people on the gang list based on association with other gang members, race, place where they live, or place where police encountered the person.

PrYSM contended that the gang database violated the PCPRA and was also used to discriminate against citizens, citing in the lawsuit an example of a Cambodian man who was allegedly denied a concealed carry permit for a gun in Warwick because he was in the Providence Police gang database, despite not being a gang member.

Police temporarily rescinded the gang database policy while the lawsuit was pending.

The new policy strips away the contested criteria, instead requiring more concrete evidence of gang affiliation including criminal convictions for gang activity, self-admission, or being named in gang documents such as articles of incorporation or bylaws.

It does not allow for anonymous tips to be criteria for inclusion in the database, but does allow for confidential informants that are “tested and reliable” to provide information that might lead to a person being included. The informant’s factors for naming someone as a gang member cannot include “mere association” with other gang members.

The policy allows people to ask police if their name is on the list and appeal their inclusion. A person will be removed from the database after two years if they haven’t had any convictions or documented gang-related activity from the listed criteria, unless they’re serving a criminal sentence during the two-year period.

The policy says the database can only be accessed for “legitimate law enforcement purpose” such as an ongoing investigation. Officers will not be permitted to use someone’s inclusion in the database as probable cause for searching or detaining them.

The new police policy was crafted collaboratively with PrYSM, according to a consent decree filed in federal court in Providence. In exchange for dropping the lawsuit, the city agreed to inform PrYSM of any future changes to the gang database policy and take their recommendations into account.

The city also agreed to pay PrYSM $2,500 in legal fees but did not admit to any wrongdoing or liability for the allegations in the suit.

Steph Machado ( covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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