Almost half of the police departments in the state that are required to post online their police complaint forms and procedures have failed to do so, according to a report released today by the Rhode Island ACLU. 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.

Among other findings, the report discloses that:

  • Only seventeen of thirty-two police departments with operating websites post both their complaint procedures and complaint forms online as required by the racial profiling law.
  • Of those seventeen, only eleven departments – Bristol, Lincoln, Middletown, Narragansett, North Kingstown, North Providence, Providence, Scituate, Smithfield, Woonsocket and the R.I. State Police – do not require complainants to submit unnecessary and potentially intrusive information in order to file a complaint.
  • Six police departments – Foster, Glocester, Richmond, South Kingstown, Tiverton and West Warwick – have posted neither their police complaint form nor their complaint procedures on their websites. Nine departments – Burrillville, Central Falls, Charlestown, Cranston, Cumberland, East Providence, Hopkinton, Johnston and Newport – post online only one of the two documents that they are required to post. (Some of these websites exist as part of a municipal website only, but upon examination we felt sufficient departmental information was included to consider them official websites.)
  • Four police departments – Barrington, Coventry, Jamestown and Portsmouth – seek complainants’ social security numbers. The report says “there is absolutely no reason for a police department to be asking” for an SSN, since it “is completely superfluous to the matter of police misconduct [and may] subtly suggest that the complainant him- or herself may be investigated.”
  • Four police departments – Barrington, Newport, Warwick and Westerly – require the complaint to be notarized.  The report calls that “a completely unnecessary, and potentially burdensome, requirement. One should not have to get a document notarized merely to file a complaint with a government agency about alleged misconduct by one of its employees.”
  • There are significant differences in the amount of detail provided complainants as to how the complaint process works. On some websites, the information provided gives complainants virtually no meaningful insight about the process.

The ACLU expressed confidence that the report would prompt departments to review their websites to comply with the statute, but noted the inherent limits to the value of internal police complaint procedures, since only a very small percentage of people who believe they are the victims of police misconduct bother to file complaints with departments’ internal affairs divisions. Nonetheless, the ACLU report called the results of the study “especially troubling” in light of “the faith that some police departments unrealistically place on their complaint process as a representation of the number of people who have had inappropriate experiences with their officers.”