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Last updated March 5, 2020
No knock warrants
Rhode Island has not yet enacted a law eliminating the use of no-knock warrants. In 2020, Rep Anastasia Williams sponsored H 8036 to make changes to the officer’s bill of rights, including the ban on no-knock warrants. This bill died in committee.
Rhode Island has not yet enacted a law ending its participation in programs that facilitate the transfer of military weapons from the federal government to police departments.
Military style training
The Rhode Island Police Chief's Association has committed to 'Twenty for 2020'--redoubling a statewide focus on training, transparency, communication and human rights. Several of these initiatives aim to connect police officers more deeply with their community, breaking down the military mentality of policing.
Rhode Island has not yet enacted a law requiring the recording and cataloging of SWAT team use.
Civil asset forfeiture
Rhode Island has not yet enacted a law ending civil asset forfeiture. The state has incredibly detailed and strict seizure and forfeiture laws. Most personal property and assets can be seized if they are connected to a suspected crime. The burden of proof remains on the citizen as well. In 2020, Sen. Metts is sponsored S2754, which aims to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws to prevent Rhode Islanders from having their property unfairly seized or from facing an uphill battle to get them back when no crime has been proven. The bill died in committee.
A 2010 Rhode Island law explicitly prohibited the practice of making ticket quotas. However, reports in 2017 indicate that local departments still utilize this practice.
Cost of misconduct
Rhode Island has not yet enacted a law requiring police departments (not state general funds) to cover the cost of misconduct.
In 2013, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 years or older was amended from a criminal misdemeanor to a non-arrestable civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. In 2017, Rhode Island passed legislation that allows those who have subsequently decriminalized crimes on their record to petition that those crimes be expunged--further lifting the burden of a criminal record.
Objective justification for stops
Rhode Island prohibits pedestrian stops unless reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity exists. Rhode Island needs to change the language to "objective justification" and define this language.
Reporting stop details
Rhode Island requires every stop that does not result in criminal charges to be documented in a police-generated report and collects data on racial disparities/racial profiling in stops.
Reckless civil rights violation
Rhode Island has not yet enacted a law lowering the prosecution requirement from ‘willful’ to ‘reckless’ deprivation of another’s rights.
Independent: In December 2020, AG Peter Neronha created a four-person team of investigators to handle all civil rights complaints that reach his office. However, the creation of this group does not institutionalize independent investigation because agencies are not required to hand all misconduct cases over to the AG for review.
Rhode Island has not yet enacted a law ending qualified immunity.
Mental health response
Rhode Island has not yet enacted a law creating and funding a mental health task force available to respond to crisis calls (in lieu of police). Though law enforcement officers must receive training on mental health and substance abuse emergencies, police are still dispatched to handle mental health crisis situations. Five South County police departments, the first in Rhode Island to create specially trained crisis intervention teams, received federal recognition in July 2020 with a $100,000 grant to support new approaches when called to aid people with mental health conditions.
Education, Housing, Community Health Resources
It is important to note that policing does not address the roots of social disadvantage and barriers to (economic) opportunity that often lead to crime. Nor should police be burdened with that responsibility.
Without access to quality resources in healthcare, education, and housing, our cities, neighborhoods, and families will continue to suffer. We should instead reassess the budgets of the state government and reinvest in the services that matter most.
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