The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island is urging 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 recent news article.

While the ACLU is pleased that an internal investigation has been launched into the allegations of officers using racially inappropriate language, data collected on the Pawtucket Police Department’s traffic stops since 2001 suggest racial discrimination may have a deeper impact on the department’s practices.

In a letter to Pawtucket city officials, ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown noted that in each of three studies of data on Rhode Island police departments’ motor vehicle stops and searches, the Pawtucket Police Department has ranked among the worst in terms of searching racial minorities. This “very troubling pattern” warrants a more thorough public investigation.

Brown called on the city to examine all available statistical information to determine the cause of the racial disparities in traffic stops, examine police traffic stop policies and procedures that may be responsible for these disparities, continue to collect and analyze traffic stop data, and draft a concrete plan of action to address the inequities documented by the traffic stop statistics.

Brown stated: “If some police officers are apt to offhandedly use derogatory language against racial minorities, one should be even more concerned about the actions they may be taking against them…. This cannot and should not be swept under the rug as merely a problem of a few police officers occasionally speaking in inappropriate ways.”