In response to the ongoing controversy in Cranston involving the apparent retaliation taken against two City Council members for their vote in November on a police union contract, the ACLU has written to Mayor Allan Fung, raising concerns about the investigation of the incident that is being conducted.

Last month, Councilor Steve Stycos presented evidence that his and Councilor Paul Archetto’s districts were singled out for a parking ticket enforcement blitz shortly after they voted against the police union contract. Stycos was also provided information suggesting that this apparent retaliatory enforcement was not just the action of rogue street officers, but may have been ordered by a higher-ranking officer. Rather than order an independent investigation of the incident, however, Mayor Fung has hired an individual merely to review the police department’s own investigation.

In its letter to the Mayor, the ACLU noted that the controversy “raises significant First Amendment issues, and concomitant questions about potential abuse of police authority.” While taking issue with the Mayor’s decision not to have an independent investigation conducted, the letter raised specific concerns “about the thoroughness with which the outside investigator you have hired will be able to review what happened, and the level of transparency that will be maintained in reporting to the public on the results of these investigations.“

In announcing the appointment of the investigator, the Mayor made clear that the investigator’s role will not be to conduct any sort of independent or additional investigation, but instead merely to “review the [internal] report to ensure that it is complete, thorough and that its finding are supported by facts and that the facts in turn support its conclusions.” But noting the “severe limitations this imposes,” the ACLU’s letter pointed out that “it will be impossible for [the investigator] to know whether all leads given to the Department were followed up if those leads are mentioned nowhere in the report that he is given to review.” The ACLU called on the Mayor to better explain how the “independent” review is designed to operate, “and what information, if any, the investigator will be privy to beyond that provided in the police department’s own report.”

Noting that “the greatest possible transparency in this investigation and its review and conclusions is crucial,” the ACLU expressed further concerns that there would be limits on the information released to the public as a result of the investigation.  The ACLU argued that if “the goal of the internal investigation and the oversight review is to get to the truth of what happened, the public must feel confident that, whatever the results, a ‘thorough and professional’ investigation has indeed been conducted. It can do so only if the greatest level of transparency is offered.” The letter asked the Mayor to clarify what information from the investigation that he would release once it was concluded.

In the two days following the contract vote, a total of 137 parking tickets were issued in the city, 128 of which were in the wards of Stycos and Archetto. By comparison, a total of 74 tickets were issued citywide in October.