R.I. senator wants to overhaul policies that protect officers accused of misconduct

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – A Rhode Island lawmaker is working to overhaul the state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR), which has been criticized as a tool that protects officers accused of misconduct.

“We don’t want a system in place that protects bad officers that abuse their power,” said Senator Harold Metts (D-Providence).

Senator Metts is spearheading legislation that would re-write the LEOBoR.

The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights was adopted in Rhode Island in 1976. It prevents an officer accused of misconduct from being immediately fired or put on leave without pay. Instead, a panel of three law enforcement officers hold a hearing to determine whether or not the officer in question should be fired. The aggrieved officer can select one of the panel members.

“If I get in trouble and I go to court, can I put somebody on the jury? I don’t think so,” said Senator Metts.

The senator said he is hopeful that worldwide protests that erupted following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police — including one that drew an estimated crowd of 10,000 to the Rhode Island State House Friday — indicate that public pressure might finally achieve reform of the law, which has been stymied in the past.

“We want something that will bring a balance, so citizen’s rights are protected also,” said Metts.

Senator Metts said he plans to meet with stakeholders and consider their suggestions to shape a proposal to reform the law.

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Assoc. hopes to be one of those stakeholders.

“The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Assoc. is not only looking forward to having discussions about it, but we’d like to lead in a part of those discussions,” said Sidney Wordell, the Executive Director of the association. “It’s 2020. It hasn’t been looked at since 1995. There’s things like video that are now prevalent in almost every situation, so there’s certainly things to look at.”

But not all law enforcement entities support a change.

“I just don’t think now is the time to do it,” said Lt. Thomas Jones, President of the North Providence Fraternal Order of Police. “I think what we need to focus on now is training, funding, and building the community relations that we work hard every day to build.”

He said he thinks the LEOBoR is a fair process, but not perfect. He worries an overhaul in policy will overshadow all the good work police departments do.

“There’s more good that police officers do than bad,” said Jones.

Categories: News, Politics, Providence, Rhode Island