Rhode Island Lawmakers Introduce Police Reform Bill

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Two Rhode Island lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday that would ban police from using chokeholds and require body-worn cameras for officers in every department statewide, among other things.

The bill proposed by Sen. Jonathon Acosta and Rep. José Batista, both Democrats, also requires that police intervene in and report severe misconduct by fellow officers, and opens the door to personal liability for officers who engage in willful misconduct.

It is called the Rishod K. Gore Justice in Policing Act of 2021, after a man who was assaulted by a Providence officer during an arrest a year ago.

“This bill aims to usher in once-in-a-generation reform to our policing practices, while providing to Mr. Gore the opportunity to reclaim the narrative and turn this horrific event into a positive for the community,” Batista, of Providence, said in a statement.

Batista is the former executive director of the Providence External Review Authority, the Providence Police Department's civilian oversight board, who was fired after publicly releasing body camera video of Gore's arrest.

Sidney Wordell, executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, told The Providence Journal the organization is opposed to the elimination of qualified immunity, which protects officers from personal liability in suits alleging civil rights violations.

“There’s already provisions that if an officer does a criminal act in the scope of their work they can be held liable for doing that,” the retired Little Compton chief said.

The association is already working with the state attorney general’s office to craft a statewide body camera proposal, he said.

The chiefs organization last June, in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, announced its own 20 promises and reforms it said would ensure transparency and maintain human rights.

The introduction of the bill is simply the first step in the process. It has to be heard in committee, heard and passed in both chambers, then signed by the governor before it becomes law.