The ACLU of Rhode Island has called on Cranston Mayor Kenneth Hopkins and the Cranston City Council to “take immediate action to halt what appears to be a long-standing and flagrant violation of the law by the Cranston Police Department” – a traffic stop quota policy, requiring police officers to stop a minimum of two cars during their patrol shifts.
In a letter sent to the Mayor and Council, the ACLU called the policy “not only deeply problematic in and of itself, it also leaves us with little doubt that it has contributed to a serious racial profiling problem in the City.”
In 2010, the R.I. General Assembly passed a law explicitly prohibiting police departments from establishing “any requirement regarding the number of arrests or investigative stops made…by an officer regarding motor vehicle traffic or parking violations.” However, Cranston police department emails obtained by the ACLU between 2017 and 2020 document the “two car stop” mandate for police cars on patrol. In February and May of this year, the ACLU wrote police chief Michael Winquist and asked for an explanation of the emails and an immediate halt to the policy, but Winquist never responded, prompting the ACLU’s letter to the Mayor and City Council. The letter states:
“To see a police department brazenly violate the law in this manner is unconscionable. Worse, it undoubtedly helps explain the Cranston Police Department’s consistently disturbing racial disparities in stopping and searching cars, as documented by annual analyses of traffic stop data performed pursuant to state law by Central Connecticut State University.
“… When police are put in the position of choosing which cars to pull over merely for the sake of meeting an arbitrary quota, rather than for a legitimate public safety need, it can only encourage discriminatory treatment of motorists. In addition, the anxiety and trauma that can be generated by a police stop goes without saying. For most people, it is an unnerving experience, but for people of color, it is particularly fraught.
“… Particularly at a time when there is widespread public agreement about the need for greater police accountability, the department’s actions can only promote disrespect for, and cynicism about, law enforcement practices.”
The letter called on the Mayor and City Council to “order an immediate halt to this practice, investigate its origins and the reasons it has continued for so long in violation of the law, and take all other necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that those responsible for this law-breaking are held accountable. This investigation should proceed even if the Department indicates it plans to halt, or has halted, this long-standing practice.”
The ACLU today is also asking individuals who believe they may have been victims of unnecessary stops or of racial profiling under the quota policy to contact the ACLU at firstname.lastname@example.org for a determination as to whether their rights were violated.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter, two of the city emails documenting the policy, and the ACLU’s correspondence to Chief Winquist can be found below.