PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State legislators are pushing to revive a mandate that requires police departments to collect and submit racial data from traffic stops.
A bill, introduced by state Rep. Edith Ajello and state Sen. Ana Quezada, would reinstate the Comprehensive Community-Police Relationship Act of 2015, which yielded an annual report from 2016 through 2020 breaking down the rates at which people of different races were pulled over compared to white individuals.
According to the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT), police departments have continued to collect racial data during traffic stops despite the law having expired. If passed, the new bill would kick in next January and departments would have 90 days to submit their data from the past three years for analysis.
The Traffic Stop Data Analysis and Findings from 2019 found municipal and state police made 243,431 stops that year.
“Police in Rhode Island are much more likely to stop minority motorists in daylight relative to darkness which is indicative of potential adverse treatment,” the report said.
The report also showed drivers of color were more likely to be searched than white drivers, but contraband was found more often in white drivers’ cars.
“The key identifying assumption of this test is that police will search minority motorists more often than whites but only relative to their expected likelihood of carrying contraband,” the report read. “Thus, the significant lower hit-rate for minority motorists suggests the potential presence of a preference on the part of police for searching minority motorist.”
“Proportionately less contraband was found in the cars of Black and Brown drivers, so that profiling that police were doing thinking they were going after bad actors wasn’t accurate and it was racist,” Ajello said. “They were stopping the wrong people.”
According to the report, six departments in the state have higher rates of stopping minority drivers in daylight: North Providence, Portsmouth, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Warwick, and Westerly.
Ajello said she hopes to have more support for the bill this legislative session after RIDOT was awarded funding to run the data.
“Data does no good if it’s sitting on a shelf someplace. It needs to be examined,” she added. “People need to be looking at it and saying, ‘What does this mean? What does this indicate? Should we be changing our practices and policies?'”
RIDOT told 12 News it has to pay for the analyses and will be reimbursed through the grants it was awarded in 2021 and 2022. The department has four years to use that funding.
“And we intend to use the funds,” RIDOT spokesperson Charles St. Martin III said in an email.
RIDOT declined to comment on whether it supports the legislation, but the agency said it will move forward with analyzing data from recent years. 12 News also reached out to the R.I. Police Chiefs Association for comment on whether they will back the bill.
“Every police department has continued to collect and review internally, even after the original requirement sunset in 2019,” RIPCA Executive Director Sidney Wordell said. “We look forward to working with the bill sponsors and stakeholders to determine the appropriate review and analysis of the data collected.”