CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Police chiefs from all over Rhode Island made a commitment on Thursday to adopt “sweeping promises and policy changes” in an effort to address systemic racism.
One by one, members of the R.I. Police Chiefs’ Association (RIPCA) signed a pledge as part of the “Twenty for 2020 Campaign” which included 20 promises to the people of Rhode Island:
1. An acknowledgement about the realities of police brutality in the world: “The police of Rhode Island denounce the actions of police officers in Minnesota, who committed or were party to a murder, through their actions and inaction. We mourn the deaths of George Floyd and every other person killed by police brutality. In Rhode Island, we take an oath to protect life. We abhor the senseless taking of another person’s life, especially at the hands of police officers. We acknowledge that the criminal justice system requires reform at all levels to make it more fair to all persons, especially persons of color.”
2: Defending the profession of policing in Rhode Island: “The Police Chiefs of Rhode Island stand up for and defend the profession of policing. Those seeking to de-fund the police are seeking to take funding away from police departments and invest it elsewhere, but this argument fails to account for the changes to our profession that have already occurred. Just as firefighting has evolved over the years—beyond the extinguishing of fires, to a heavy focus on emergency medical services, prevention/safety, and rescue—the profession of policing has evolved beyond arrests and investigations. Today, modern police departments employ social workers, jail diversion coordinators, youth outreach workers, and recovery coaches as police, nationally, have been leading the fight against the opioid epidemic. We support a dialog on increasing social services and creating new programs at all levels of government, but to cut police funding today would hurt vulnerable citizens immediately.”
3: Re-emphasizing training standards: “Police in Rhode Island are rigorously trained. We are not trained to use choke-holds to aid in the apprehension of a suspect, and our statewide Use of Force Policy specifically bans choke-holds and strangleholds. We do not train to place a defenseless person on their face where they can’t breathe. The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association will ensure that this training is emphasized in every agency.”
The Police Chiefs of Rhode Island also commit to meeting, and in many cases, exceeding the 8 Can’t Wait use of force principles. This includes “Duty to Intervene,” which is already included in the statewide Use of Force Policy.
Every police department in Rhode Island shall train each of its officers on the following principles: De-escalation, Implicit Bias, Procedural Justice, Police Legitimacy.
4. Right to peaceful protest: Every police department in Rhode Island supports the right of all people to peacefully assemble and protest. The people of Rhode Island should feel safe and secure assembling peacefully and petitioning their government agencies without fear of reprisal, intimidation or undue aggression from police. Rhode Island Law Enforcement agencies will uphold the constitutional rights of those engaged in peaceful and lawful protests. Agencies will avoid using provocative tactics and equipment that undermines civilian trust.
5. News media and officer identification: Every police department in Rhode Island pledges to respect and uphold the right of journalists and the news media to do their job and perform their duties without fear of unlawful arrest or harassment from police. All Police Officers in the State of Rhode Island shall provide their name and badge number at anytime if requested.
6. Public policies: Every police department in Rhode Island shall post their Use of Force, Use of Force Reporting, Complaint Processing, and Bias Based Policing Prohibition policies on their respective department websites and on the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association website so that the public can view and access these policies anytime, without filing a public records request.
7. Accreditation: The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association and its member chiefs shall commit to every police department in Rhode Island achieving state accreditation under the Rhode Island In-State Accreditation Commission RIPCA shall research federal grants and funding sources to ease the burden on agencies to achieve accreditation.
8. Feedback: Every police department in Rhode Island shall create a form on its website for citizen feedback and complaints, which will go directly to the Chief of Police or the Internal Affairs office of the agency. All complaints, including anonymous complaints, will be investigated. Every police department in Rhode Island will explore the creation and implementation of a verified Facebook page and Twitter account subject to any legal restrictions or municipal or university policies. All Rhode Island Police Departments will post a link on their website to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Reporting Portal, a new online tool to make it easier for the public to report a civil rights violation.
9. Restorative justice: The Rhode Island Police Chief’s Association shall seek to promote restorative justice, with the long-term goal of creating a statewide restorative justice program that all agencies can use to ensure community harmony without the stain of a criminal record for certain non-violent offenders.
Restorative justice is a voluntary process, done only with the approval of a victim, involving the whole community and the offender, without giving the offender a criminal record.
10. Cameras: Every police department in Rhode Island shall research body-worn cameras and cruiser cameras. The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association shall likewise research possible statewide grants or federal funding that would reduce the cost to taxpayers, helping ensure less disparity between communities.
11. Wellness: Every police department in Rhode Island commits to a police officer wellness program that supports physical and mental health and will work with the RIPCA to standardize such a program.
12. Social service mutual aid: The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association shall establish a database of community service, social service, youth service, social workers, recovery coaches, and specialty service providers in each police department in the state. The database shall be made available to all law enforcement agencies to ensure “mutual aid” of specialty resources whenever they are needed.
13. Uniform Use of Force Reporting Procedures: The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association commits to develop and implement a statewide, uniform excessive use of force reporting system.
14 Face-to-face interactions: Every Police Department in Rhode Island will host an open forum four times per year, starting on Zoom or a similar online platform and moving in-person as COVID-19 public health guidelines permit. Whether in a formal auditorium setting or “Coffee with a Cop” all will be welcome and police officers and police chiefs will answer questions from the community.
15. LEOBOR: The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association will work with state lawmakers to review and make necessary updates to the Rhode Island Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR).
16. Commitment to diversity hiring: The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association commits to the creation of a standardized outreach process for recruitment by municipal departments in order to reach new communities of individuals and to diversify its ranks.
17. External training: Every Police Department in Rhode Island shall incorporate training resources or book a speaker from a social justice/community relations organization at least once per year in order to strengthen law enforcement relationships with the communities they serve. In addition, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association shall conduct annual hate crimes trainings from social justice/community relations organizations like the ADL New England at least once per year. Individual agencies shall welcome speakers from other local, regional and national cultural or advocacy organizations.
18. NAACP standards: Every Police Department in Rhode Island shall review the NAACP’s “Standards Every Law Enforcement Agency Should Have” and seek to incorporate the standards into their policies and procedures.
19. Online training library: The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association shall maintain an open library on its website including: Training resources, Diversity and bias resources. Research and scholarly works on criminal justice and Downloadable resources for police departments to ensure consistency of knowledge across agencies in the state.
20. RITE Academy and implicit bias training: The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association shall seek to have chiefs and officers trained as instructors through the RITE Academy, or other program with similar curriculum, with the intention of training the entire police department on cultural bias and implicit bias.
Video Now: Twenty for 2020 Campaign Announcement (Story continues below.)
RIPCA members described the changes as much-needed reformative action steps that will help restore the community’s trust.
“From here, with an open mind and an open-door policy, encouraging dialogue with our community, we hope to better achieve our goals,” Lincoln Police Chief Brian Sullivan said. “We seek to promote not just public safety, but to build and maintain the public’s trust.”
“We are all in this together,” Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist added. “We are all working together to end systemic racism that has plagued our society for far too long.”
The RIPCA is comprised of more than 100 members including active and retired police chiefs and representatives from municipal, state, and campus law enforcement agencies.
Over the past few weeks, its executive board and 48 member chiefs met to develop a “statewide strategy, approach and response to public safety and policing,” according to an earlier news release from the RIPCA.
The campaign stems from the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a former Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while other officers stood by. The incident was captured on video and set off weeks of protests nationwide calling for racial justice and police reform.
“We have been listening and hearing the calls for change and want to unite in our effort to address these important issues and reaffirm our commitment to public safety and protection for all Rhode Islanders,” RIPCA Executive Director and retired police Chief Sidney Wordell said.
“By acting in unison and making a series of changes and promises that will affect every law enforcement agency in the state, it is our sincere hope that we can show — not simply tell — our residents and community members that we take racism and police brutality seriously and are committed to ending both in our profession,” he continued.
On Tuesday, Col. James Manni, superintendent of the R.I. State Police, hinted change was already on the way, saying he believes troopers wearing body cameras would be beneficial.
“For the residents and the public it would provide accountability and transparency,” Manni said. “But also for the troopers, it would protect them from being falsely accused of any type of complaint that could easily be cleared up by viewing the video.”
The RIPCA also plans to launch a messaging campaign to inform the public of the policy changes.