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Rhode Island police chiefs pledge commitment to reform

By Staff | Jun 26, 2020

Police chiefs from across Rhode Island on Thursday announced a list of 20 promises they say will ensure transparency and maintain human rights in an era when the killing of George Floyd has led to nationwide protests demanding racial justice and police reform.

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association’s pledges, called the Twenty for 2020 Campaign, includes an acknowledgement of the realities of police brutality that specifically mentions Floyd; a promise that every department in the state will train each of its officers in de-escalation and implicit bias; the development of a statewide use-of-force reporting system; and a re-emphasis on diversity hiring.

Systemic racism exists in society and in law enforcement, association Executive Director Sidney Wordell said at a news conference in Cranston. “Like a cancer, it grows if unchecked,” the retired Little Compton police chief said.

The organization, which represents chiefs from 48 municipal, campus, state and environmental departments, also pledged to defend the police profession and resist defunding efforts.

“We understand that our words do not carry any meaning unless they are followed by actions,” Lincoln Chief and organization President Brian Sullivan said in a statement. “Our hope today is that the promises we are making to our communities will be just the start of a longer, sustained action toward greater police legitimacy in the eyes of the people we serve.”

Floyd is the Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The officer has been charged with murder.

“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,” the chiefs’ association said in the first of its 20 promises.

They went on: “We acknowledge that the criminal justice system requires reform at all levels to make it more fair to all persons, especially persons of color.”

Mark Fisher, the senior director of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island called the list a good start, but said police have to follow through.

“It gives us a roadmap on where we want to go in the community and in law enforcement statewide,” the Providence man said. “They showed insight, forethought and good faith intentions.”

What stood out to Fisher was the promise of implicit bias and procedural justice training.

“Those things to me are the crux of the matter,” he said.

The association in putting together its pledges has been consulting with civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as the Rhode Island Guardians Association, a coalition of minority law enforcement officers.

Black Lives Matter Rhode Island was not contacted by the chiefs’ association, Fisher said.

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