Racial profiling and police practices in Rhode Island


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Racial Profiling

For nearly two decades, the ACLU of Rhode Island and many local organizations and leaders have worked hard to address the rampant problem of racial profiling in the state of Rhode Island.

In recent years, this has meant a number of moderate successes including passage of a state law barring police officers from searching juvenile and pedestrians without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and resuming collection of data about traffic stops, and passage of more expansive protections in the city of Providence. (Know Your Rights! Learn more about the Providence ordinance here.)

The ACLU of Rhode Island remains committed to ending racial profiling, and is continuing to watch traffic stop data for racial disparities, take complaints of racial profiling, and advocate for stronger protections in the laws. 

In This Section:

Recent Data Analysis:

December 15, 2014: An ACLU of Rhode Island analysis of data from three separate studies by Northeastern University found that racial disparities in discretionary searches during motor vehicle stops appear to be increasing. Of the ten Rhode Island police departments that stopped more than 2,000 individuals and/or engaged in more than 100 discretionary searches in 2004 and 2005, the data indicates that nine have seen a subsequent increase in the racial disparity of such searches, as shown in the below chart: (Click the chart to enlarge.) 

In addition, of the departments with sufficient data for all three studies, virtually all police departments in Rhode Island search non-white drivers at rates disproportionately higher than white drivers. This analysis comes as part of a forthcoming larger analysis of racial disparities across Rhode Island, including in arrest rates and school suspension rates. You can learn more about these disparities and view additional charts here.

Recent News:
  • April 27, 2018: The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, the R.I. Commission for Human Rights, and Rhode Island for Community and Justice expressed concern about the latest results of a study finding racial disparities in traffic stops in the state, while expressing hope it would spur police departments to meaningfully tackle this persistent and troubling problem. (Read More)
  • April 8, 2015: The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island urged the Pawtucket Police Department to conduct an in-depth examination of some of its policies and procedures in light of “disturbing” allegations of racism among its officers described in a news article. (Read More)
  • November 19, 2014: Data reported by USA Today demonstrated an extreme racial disparity in arrest rates in communities across Rhode Island. Using 2011-2012 arrest record data reported to the FBI by police departments nationwide, the USA Today study found that Rhode Island police departments that were analyzed arrested black individuals at rates up to 9.14 times higher than the rate for non-blacks. The disparity in these communities is even larger than in Ferguson, Missouri, where racial tensions and mistrust of the police have recently come to a head. (Read More)
  • October 15, 2014: The latest report by the Rhode Island Traffic Stop Statistics Data Collection Study found that in most communities, racial minorities, as a percentage of the driving population, remain more likely than whites to be stopped by police. And once stopped, racial minorities in most communities are more likely to be subject to discretionary searches, but less likely to be found with contraband. Every study conducted in Rhode Island, since the first one over a decade ago, has reached these same conclusions. (Read More)
  • September 24, 2014: A report issued by the ACLU of Rhode Island found that ten years after Rhode Island law began requiring police departments to post online their police complaint forms and procedures, some departments are still not in compliance with some of the law’s basic requirements. The requirement, contained in the Racial Profiling Prevention Act of 2004, was designed to make it easier for victims of police misconduct to file complaints with departments. (Read More)

Links of Interest

ACLU Reports on Racial Profiling

Historical Documents

These documents are no longer widely applicable to our efforts to combat racial profiling, but remain here for your reference.