RACE IN RHODE ISLAND
Safety chief: Training key to proper use of force
Providence’s Paré also points to value of community trust, body cameras, diversity
By Katie Mulvaney Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — Tensions surrounding the nationwide shooting deaths of unarmed black men by white police officers have Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré pondering if a similar scenario could play out here.
Each officer-involved incident in the country has led Paré to reexamine department protocols and how it educates its 420 officers about the proper use of force.
He recognizes that a situation can escalate “real quick” if a police officer feels in fear for his or her life or is outnumbered. He is convinced that training, and retraining, is key.
“We all come with biases and some experience, some good some bad,” Paré says. “So how do you shape an urban police officer in the sensitivity and the challenges that he or she is going to face? That’s where it comes down to training ... You’re always going to revert back to your training.” What’s key for Paré is forging a better relationships in the community. “The relationship is top priority. That’s how we’re
going to avoid issues in our community, if we have a strong relationship,” Paré says. He has met with the city’s faith leaders and plans to meet with other stakeholders.
When Mayor Angel Taveras named Paré public safety commissioner in 2010, Paré brought with him 26 years with the Rhode Island State Police and experience running security at GTECH Holdings Corp. Since he arrived, Paré says he has personally reviewed every use of force report.
“I have aggressive police officers. I had aggressive police officers in the state police as well,” Paré says. “I have people who think differently. We’re human, but the amount of restraint I’ve seen here is remarkable because we deal with a lot of challenging situations, either substance abuse people or mentally ill people... .”
Paré supports the use of Tasers as a means to disarm someone, short of engaging in a physical altercation. He would like his officers equipped with body cameras, particularly given that these days police are often being videotaped themselves. Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. last week announced that the city is in the final stages of developing a test program to equip as many as 20 police officers with body cameras as a first step toward implementing their use department-wide
“[The] police officers aren’t going to like it ... but I say look `I want a full recording rather than a snippet of what happens.’... We shouldn’t wait until an incident happens before we go there,” Paré says.
He adds: “It will protect them as much as protect the community.”
Gun task force
Among the department’s most scrutinized officers are those on the gun task force, an eight-member team launched in 2003 to take guns off the streets following a spate of shootings and murders. Dubbed the “jump out boys” by some, the task force has been faulted for its tactics.
“They do a good job, but they do a tough job, too,” Paré says. “As I’ve instructed, you can’t be violating anyone’s rights. It’s a tough job to try to identify who’s carrying guns and do it lawfully so you’re not just searching everyone that’s on the street at 2 o’clock in the morning.”
Paré acknowledges that he’s heard the criticisms about the task force, and encourages people to come forward if they believe their rights have been violated.
The task force in 2014 seized 39 of the 127 firearms taken by the entire department, roughly 30 percent of gun seizures.
He stresses the city’s role in drafting a new law that prohibits police from searching juveniles or pedestrians without probable cause and mandates that data be collected at every traffic stop. That information will be analyzed by Brown University analysts who will work with police to identify patterns, such as whether racial profiling is occurring.
Though the data released publicly will not identify specific officers or incidents, police departments themselves will know which officers are involved and be able to take action accordingly, Paré says.
“This is going to get us a step closer to eradicating bad behavior if it’s existing within the department...,” Paré says. “If you have a racist police officer stopping 100 percent minorities and searching every single one of them, by all means that officer will now know that activity is being captured and will be reviewed.”
Paré strongly supports that the law restricts police from asking a juvenile to consent to a search without probable cause, calling it a “huge change” for police.
“If we don’t have a legal right, we shouldn’t be asking a juvenile to consent to a search in hopes we find some contraband,” Paré says.
He applauds the work of the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence, and would like to see the organization receive more funding. “They do amazing work to disrupt and prevent violence among young kids that are feuding over nonsense,” Paré says.
Black Lives Matter
Asked for his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, Paré said he doesn’t find the phrase offensive but recognizes that some police officers take it as a slight to the profession. He looked to the number of African American men in prison across the nation. Why is that? he asks.
“The message is that people from the minority community, particularly young men, think that they don’t matter, and that’s pretty sad when we have a segment of our society that feels that way ...,” Paré says. “We should continue to build a better relationship, better connection, better trust. Because if they don’t trust the police, then where do they turn? It’s gotten to the point that we have to say Black Lives Matter. Well, that’s how they feel, and I respect that. All lives matter. Black lives matter as well.”
While Paré said his role in improving race relations in Rhode Island involves strengthening the department’s bonds with the community, he also said it is diversifying the police and fire departments.
Anna Cano Morales, a member of the Providence Journal’s Race in R.I. Sounding Board, asked if the department might consider awarding police and fire department applicants points for living in the city, being a veteran or speaking different languages.
Applicants receive points for living in the city, a move Paré credits as helping the department recruit residents of varying races for the most recent academies. The department is about 23 percent officers of color
— a number that should be much higher, he says. More bilingual officers are also needed.
As to the lack of African Americans in leadership ranks, Paré said he is restricted in the promotions process by the collective bargaining agreement. Former Chief Dean Esserman struck a deal with the union that gave him flexibility to select candidates for varying ranks, he said. There has been a recent change in the leadership of the police union, the Providence Fraternal Order of Police.
“With the new leadership, we’ll be having discussions about changing the [collective bargaining agreement] so it gives us more of an ability to pick skill sets that do not reflect in the written exam or the oral interview,” Paré said.
That few officers of color hold high ranks “didn’t just happen overnight,” Paré observed. “That was years of both hiring and lack of diversity in our ranks. I’m not blaming the contract exclusively, but it inhibits us in trying to select a diverse command staff.”
Paré objects to a movement in the community calling for the appointment of a black major.
“Look we shouldn’t be promoting someone based on their race,” Paré said, adding “They have to compete like anyone else. The problem is we don’t have an African American command staff person.... That’s a problem that happened years ago, and we’re trying to fix it for the future.”
—With contributions from Journal Staff Writer G. Wayne Miller and Sounding Board members Anna Cano Morales and Zack Mezera
(401) 277-7417 On Twitter: @kmulvane