Police Practice Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Police Practices

Police play an important role in working to protect and serve the public, yet abuses of police power continue to be a problem in Rhode Island and nationwide, particularly in low-income communities and in communities of color.  Years of traffic stop data in Rhode Island have demonstrated consistently that black and Hispanic drivers are twice as likely as white drivers to be stopped by police and searched, while white drivers are more likely to be found with contraband when searched.  The ACLU of Rhode Island has worked for many years as a part of a diverse coalition to advocate for the passage of comprehensive legislation to prevent racial profilingThe ACLU also works on various other police misconduct issues, such as those surrounding stop-and-frisk tactics, surveillance, brutality, and the withholding of public police records from citizens.

The ACLU of Rhode Island recently released a report, "The School-To-Prison Pipeline In Black And White," offers a brief but systematic examination of racial disparities in Rhode Island, and how those interconnected disparities can lead to a lifetime of unequal treatment. The report highlights numerous disparities, including those in traffic stop and search rates and arrest rates.

Police Misconduct in the News

  • Jun, 13, 2017: ACLU of RI Statement on ICE Agent Arrest of Immigrant at Providence Courthouse
  • Mar, 28, 2017: Statement on Ticketing of Protesters By Cranston Police
  • Jan, 18, 2017: Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Against Woonsocket Police for Treatment of Deaf Detainee

View All News Releases Related to Police Misconduct »

Police Misconduct Related Court Cases

2016: Alves v. Woonsocket
Category: Civil Rights    Discrimination    Rights of the Disabled    Free Speech    Police Practices    

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in partnership with the R.I. Disability Law Center on behalf of a profoundly deaf person who was arrested and detained overnight by Woonsocket police for allegedly making an obscene gesture, and who was never provided an interpreter to allow him to communicate with the police during his detention. The case raised important issues regarding municipal agency obligations to accommodate residents who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The lawsuit argued that city officials violated plaintiff David Alves’s “statutory and constitutional rights by unlawfully arresting and detaining him, charging him with violating an unconstitutional City criminal ordinance, subjecting him to discrimination on account of his disability, and failing to accommodate his disability.”

The suit settled favorably in January 2017.

Supporting Documents
2011: R.I. ACLU v. Department of Public Safety
Category: Open Government    Police Practices    

Lawsuit challenging the adoption of regulations by the State Police significantly limiting public access to arrest reports and other police records.

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Police Misconduct Related Legislation

Police Body Cameras (H 5926)
Category: 2017    Police Practices    

For the second year in a row, legislation has been proposed to set up the framework to ensure that the use of body cameras among police agencies in Rhode Island properly safeguards the integrity of encounters between law enforcement and civilians. The ACLU testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee during the first week of April arguing that cameras have the potential to be a win-win for both law enforcement and the community—but only if they are deployed within a framework of strong policies to ensure they promote transparency and accountability, while also protecting legitimate privacy interests during some police encounters.

The legislation contains provisions that detail when the camera should be activated by the police officer during an encounter, as well as when recording should be discontinued if a crime victim asks to do so. An important provision includes the use, retention, and access to body camera data, stating that any body camera recording should be kept for up to three years if it “captures use of force, events leading up to a felony arrest, an encounter that has resulted in a complaint, or if an officer asserts that the recording has evidentiary or exculpatory value.” The legislation would also allow victims of police force to obtain access to the camera footage. It is in contrast to the policy adopted by the Providence Police Department - the first department in the state to purchase the cameras - which the ACLU has criticized for failing to promote either transparency or accountability.