ACLU demands Cranston police end traffic stop quota

West Bay

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island claims the Cranston Police Department is illegally enforcing a traffic stop quota.

In a letter to Mayor Ken Hopkins, ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown said the quota was brought to his attention earlier this year.

“According to departmental emails we obtained, police officers have for years been ordered on a regular basis to stop a minimum of two cars during their patrol shifts,” he wrote.

Brown said this mandate is in direct violation of state law, which prohibits police departments from setting arrest or investigative stop quotas for officers.

“To see a police department brazenly violate the law in this manner is unconscionable,” Brown wrote.

He also claims the department’s quota has contributed to racial profiling in the city.

“Every day, virtually every one of us breaks a traffic law, whether it is going five miles over the speed limit, failing to put on a turn signal or accidentally crossing the center lane for a moment,” Brown wrote. “When police are put in the position of choosing which cars to pull over merely for the sake of meeting an arbitrary quota rather than for a legitimate public safety need, it can only encourage discriminatory treatment of motorists.”

“Particularly at a time when there is widespread public agreement about the need for greater police accountability, the department’s actions can only promote disrespect for, and cynicism about, law enforcement practices,” he continued.

Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist confirmed the long-standing traffic stop policy, but called Brown’s letter “inaccurate and misleading.”

“Traffic enforcement is the responsibility and duty of every police officer around the country,” Winquist said. “It has been made clear to all of our officers and is codified in policy that enforcement is to be done impartially and for observable violations of Rhode Island traffic laws.”

Winquist also said it’s up to the officers discretion whether a citation or warning is issued, and there is “no expectation or requirement that an officer must issue two traffic tickets during their shift.”

“Most often, traffic stops end with a warning and an educational interaction with the public,” Winquist continued. “Unfortunately, Mr. Brown feels some traffic laws should be discarded, such as ‘crossing the centerline for a moment,’ which could be indicative of an impaired operator.”

Brown calls Winquist’s explanation for the policy “ridiculous.”

“Traffic stops are investigative stops,” he said. “We don’t see anything in the police chief’s response that, in any way, negates the concerns we’ve raised.”

In the letter to Hopkins, Brown urged him to stop the practice and investigate its origins. In a statement, Hopkins tells 12 News he’s reviewed the policy with Winquist and trusts his judgment.

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