Racial profiling and police practices in Rhode Island


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Racial Profiling

The RI ACLU, along with many local organizations and leaders, is working hard to bring attention to the rampant problem of racial profiling in the state of Rhode Island.

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:
  • 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)
2014 General Assembly:

Ten years after it was first introduced and three years after a near-compromise fell through at the last minute, legislation addressing racial profiling by law enforcement in Rhode Island passed the Senate in June 2014. Sponsored by Senator Harold Metts (S 2976A) prohibits the searching of juveniles and pedestrians except when law enforcement has reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity, resumed data collection, and made certain agreements between law enforcement and immigration officials public. Unfortunately, the bill died without a hearing in the House, where it was sponsored by Representative Joe Almeida (H 8345). 


For the past several years, the Coalition Against Racial Profiling has been working for the passage of legislation to address and prevent racial profiling. This crucial legislation, which passed out of the House Judiciary Committee for the first time in 2011, would standardize police practices in traffic stops and interaction with youth pedestrians, and resume required data collection in an effort to combat racial profiling in Rhode Island. 

The campaign was announced in May of 2009.  To coincide with the coalition’s efforts, the Rhode Island Senate passed a resolution declaring May 2009 “Racial Profiling Awareness Month.”

Links of Interest

Related Documents

ACLU Reports on Racial Profiling