Citing almost two decades’ worth of data showing significant racial disparities in the enforcement of traffic laws by the R.I. State Police (RISP), eight civil rights and community organizations have urged Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials not to give RISP the legal authority to enforce federal immigration law. RISP has sought such permission pursuant to the “immigration” executive order that Governor Carcieri issued last year.

The eight-page letter sent to ICE officials from the RI ACLU, the Urban League of RI, the International Institute of RI, Direct Action for Rights and Equality and others, traces a lengthy history of alleged racial profiling by the State Police, and argues that giving RISP the power to enforce federal immigration law would only exacerbate this critical problem. Among the data cited by the groups:

  • In 1990, when RISP first instituted a drug interdiction program on the state’s highways, of the first 28 arrests made by the drug interdiction squad, 22 of the arrestees – over 78% –were Hispanic.
  • In 1999, when the State Police engaged in the voluntary collection of traffic stops data for six months, the data showed that more than 26% of the traffic stops made were of non-whites, even though non-whites made up only about 8% of the state’s population at the time.
  • A two-year study of traffic stops of RISP conducted by Northeastern University in 2001-2002 found that State Police were not only more likely to stop non-white drivers, but were also almost twice as likely to search them once they had been stopped.
  • A follow-up one-year study of traffic stop data conducted by Northeastern University in 2004-2005 again found that blacks and Hispanics continued to be disproportionately stopped and searched by State Police, even though they were less likely than whites to be found with contraband once searched.
  • A 2006 study of traffic stops and searches by RISP, analyzed by consultants at the University of Rhode Island, found that “a driver’s race and ethnicity clearly influences the reason for which he or she is stopped,” and that there was “substantial evidence of racial and ethnic disparity in discretionary searches by the Rhode Island State Police in 2006.”

Despite this consistent and rather overwhelming data over a lengthy period of time, the letter to ICE notes that State Police officials repeatedly reject the findings made of the data, and continue to deny that any problem of racial profiling exists.

Finally, the letter also cites the findings of an advisory panel set up by the Governor last year, which found that “actions taken by law enforcement agencies after the issuance of the [immigration executive order], have served to create some apprehension, and have also significantly reinforced an environment charged with fear.”

The letter concludes by stating:

“It is with this background and in this climate that ICE is considering whether to grant 287(g) authority to the Rhode Island State Police. In light of the detailed information contained herein – documenting beyond dispute, we believe, evidence indicating widespread racial disparities in traffic stop enforcement by the State Police; the agency’s repeated and on-going failure to acknowledge the existence of such profiling; and the fear within the immigrant community that has been generated by the executive order leading to this 287(g) request – we respectfully urge your agency to reject this application.”

The groups signing the letter were: the RI ACLU, the International Institute of RI, the Urban League of RI, the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy, Olneyville Neighborhood Association, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, the Providence Human Relations Commission, and Ocean State Action. The letter was prompted by action earlier this year by ICE giving the state Department of Corrections so-called 287(g) authority.