Rhode Island bill attempts to curb racial profiling

| 1/29/2007

A legislative effort in the Rhode Island General Assembly is intended to prevent racial profiling by law enforcement officers during traffic stops. It is also designed to protect immigrants and juveniles.

The legislation is in response to incidents during the past year that supporters contend were racially motivated.

“We need to give racial profiling victims better protection, and we need to give that protection to more people,” Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Providence, said in a written statement.

The legislation would prohibit police from asking passengers of vehicles for identification after traffic stops. Passengers would only be required to provide personal information if criminal activity is suspected.

Authorities would be required to document in writing their “probable cause” or grounds for “reasonable suspicion” for searching vehicles. Officers also would be barred from asking about immigration status, except in certain circumstances.

Officers would be prohibited from using minor traffic violations as a pretext for stopping vehicles for other reasons.

Police also would be prevented from inquiring about someone’s immigration status or demanding documentation when stopped for minor traffic violations. The only exception would be when required by federal law or in other select circumstances.

Bill supporters say statistics show that minorities continue to face a disproportionate number of traffic stops, The Associated Press reported.