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State Report: Racial Profiling, Teacher Evaluations + Food Labels

Saturday, January 18, 2014

 

This week's State Report centers on a new report on racial disparities in traffic stops, which was released earlier this week. Additionally, we'll examine several new bills that look to address annual teacher evaluation requirements; genetically modified products; convicted murderers; and school safety. 

New Report Examines Racial Profiling in RI

On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Traffic Stop Data Advisory Committee announced the release of a new report examining racial disparities in traffic stops across the state. The report, which was compiled by the Institute on Race & Justice (IRJ) at Northeastern University, includes preliminary findings of the Highway Safety Traffic Stop Data Collection, Analysis & Reporting Study commissioned in 2010.

The Study

The study, which involved the collection and analysis of traffic stop data from 39 police agencies, found in the majority of communities, minorities are more likely to be pulled over than whites for a traffic stop but less likely to receive a citation than their white counterparts. It also found that the most common category of drivers stopped in Rhode Island are white males under 31 years of age who are not residents of the community in which the stop occurs. The majority of traffic stops are made for a violation of traffic laws (96 percent) – most often, speeding.

"The advisory committee worked tirelessly to produce this report with the hope that it will be useful to law enforcement agencies as well as to the community," said RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis. "RIDOT was fortunate to receive the funding to conduct this study and to prepare this report, but the real credit goes to the committee for their ongoing efforts to address this important topic."

The study, which evaluated stops between January 1, 2013 and September 30, 2013, found that progress has been made since earlier studies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in post-stop searches. But search patterns still reveal that in the majority of Rhode Island communities, minority drivers were more likely to be searched than white drivers. As in many U.S. states, however, searches are a relatively rare occurrence during routine traffic stops in Rhode Island. As a result, only a small number of records were available for analysis.

Stops were evaluated across four measures: stops compared to driving population estimate, stops compared to census data, proportion of drivers who received a citation or warning, and proportion of drivers who were searched. While specific areas of concern within communities were identified, no community was found to have consistently high racial and ethnic disparities across all four areas of analysis. As a result, the report does not draw conclusions about the existence of racial profiling in Rhode Island; rather it identifies potential areas for further examination.

Recommendations

Key recommendations in the report include:

  • Each police department should carefully review the data to identify areas of concern and, where appropriate, compare its results to that of a comparable community in the state.
  • Police department leadership should share this data with their officers to increase understanding about what the data is indicating about local enforcement activity – as well as share it with the community.
  • The systematic data collection of traffic stops should continue across departments to monitor trends and disparities over time.

 

A Model for the Nation

More than a decade ago, Rhode Island led the nation by requiring the collection of traffic stop data that would be used to address community concerns around racial profiling and improve relations between residents and law enforcement. Reports were published in 2003 and 2006, respectively. As a result of this earlier work, Rhode Island qualified to receive a $1.18 million grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to conduct this most recent study. The latter included building the infrastructure to support the electronic collection and transmission of data from each agency – as well as conducting the analysis and interpretation of the findings.

As part of the 2013 study, an advisory committee consisting of community members, law enforcement, and other stakeholders was convened to provide guidance throughout the project. RIDOT also contracted with IRJ and Ledge Light Technologies to assist with the data collection, transmission, and analysis of the traffic stop data. Thirty-nine police agencies participated in the study – which evaluated 153,891 stops.

In November 2013, the advisory committee hosted three public forums to solicit input from the community on preliminary findings of the study; a key recommendation put forth was to extend the timeframe of data collection. While the 2013 report establishes a baseline of activity, the committee agreed that further data collection and evaluation are needed given the study's limited collection period. A plan is currently under development to collect additional data and to prepare a final report for release in summer 2014.

A copy of the full 2013 report is available on the RIDOT website at www.dot.ri.gov.

Check out more news from the past week in the slideshow below. 


Related Slideshow:
RI State Report: More News of the Week - 1/18/14

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Rep. O'Brien Bill Eases Annual Teacher Evaluation Rule 

Rep. William W. O’Brien has introduced legislation that will establish a sliding-scale, of sorts, for teacher evaluations. 

Currently, the Rhode Island teacher evaluation system requires principals in the schools to evaluate every teacher every year, and it is expected that each of those evaluations cover a period of about 15 hours.

O’Brien, himself an educator, thinks that requirement is excessive and foists an enormous amount of work on a school principal, who has many other time-consuming responsibilities. 

“Imagine a school with 100 teachers,” said  O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence). “That’s 1,500 hours of teacher evaluations, every year, which is an enormous amount of time for a principal who has many other duties. While these evaluations may be important, I think there are more reasonable ways to get this accomplished.”

Under his proposal, any teacher who is, upon an initial evaluation, rated “highly effective” or given a number “4” mark or the equivalent would only need to be evaluated once every four years. A teacher rated as “effective” or given a number “3” mark would need to be evaluated only every three years.

Any teacher who scores a lesser rating could be subject to annual evaluations.

The provisions of the O’Brien legislation are intended to apply only to teachers who have at least three full years of successful teaching experience in their respective district, but would not prohibit the annual evaluation of teachers during their first three years in a district.

To read the proposal in its entirety, click here

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Bill Calls for Labeling of Genetically Modified Products 

Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) has introduced legislation that would add a definition to state law relative to genetically engineered products and that would also set forth rules for labeling such products. Whether packaged food or a raw agricultural commodity, the item would need to be clearly labeled “Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

“This is not only about the purity and safety of our food but also about the right of consumers to know what they are purchasing,” said Canario. “I am not interested in launching a fight for an outright ban on genetically engineered products, but I am interested in educated consumers. When consumers know what is in the product they intend to buy, they can determine whether to buy it or not. But they should not be buying items without full and total disclosure of what the item contains.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about 70 percent of food products sold in supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients (sometimes referred to as GMOs, for genetically modified organisms).

A genetically engineered food is a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered in a laboratory by genes from other plants, animals, viruses or bacteria. This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature and is experimental.

Click here to read Canario's bill in its entirety.

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Convicted Murderer Registry Legislation

Legislation to establish a convicted murderer registry has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) and in the House of Representative by Rep. Raymond A. Hull (D-Dist. 6, Providence, North Providence).

The registry legislation would add convicted/released murderers to the state’s sexual offender registration and notification law and would require convicted murderers in Rhode Island to register with local police when they are released. 

“The police department notifies a neighborhood that there’s a sexual offender living in the community. I believe we should have that same process for someone who has committed a first- or second-degree murder who is being released into the community,” said Raptakis. “The public has a right to know that someone who has committed a murder is living in their neighborhood.”

According to Hull, “This is a matter of safety for the community. The sexual predator notification law exists to alert neighbors about a potential danger in their area so they can take a little extra care. The same process should apply to individuals who have served time for murder. Once released, these people deserve a second chance, but the community they move into deserves to be made aware.”

The legislation does not create a new section of law but rather adds individuals convicted of murder to the existing sexual offender notification law.

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Bill Ties State Aid Disbursement to Pension Funding 

Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) has introduced legislation intended to keep municipalities up-to-date with their pension contributions, serving the dual purpose of protecting their citizens and ensuring the viability of the pension plan.

The legislation would allow the General Treasurer to withhold state aid to municipalities which do not fully fund their annual required contribution to a locally-administered pension plan. The withheld funds would be placed in an interest-bearing account until the municipality presents a plan for funding that is satisfactory to the General Treasurer.

In the event no such plan is prepared within one year of the state aid being withheld, the legislation would allow the General Treasurer to deposit the funds directly into the locally-administered pension plan.

“Call it a carrot-and-stick approach, if you like, but municipalities must show greater responsibility to fully funding their pension plans every year,” said Shekarchi. “Those not doing so suffer no immediate consequences, but they are doing a great disservice to their residents. Perhaps the threat of losing state aid will help ensure the municipalities are more religious about maintaining the long-term stability of their local pension plan.”

Click here to read Shekarchi's proposal. 

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Walsh Proposes Statewide Food-Waste Collection

Rep. Donna M. Walsh has introduced a bill that would phase in a requirement that all non-residential food waste be separated from waste headed for the landfill and recycled or otherwise processed in a useful way, provided there is a facility available. 

The requirement would be phased in beginning with large producers – those producing an average of more than one ton of such waste a week, most likely colleges and other large institutions – in 2015, down to smaller-scale producers, eventually applying to all Rhode Island businesses and institutions by 2021.

The legislation is aimed at extending the limited life of the state’s Central Landfill by reducing the waste dumped there, harnessing the waste’s potential for production of energy and organic fertilizer and giving a boost to Rhode Island’s green economy.

“Tossing food scraps in the landfill is wasteful on so many levels. Instead of letting this organic material fill up valuable landfill space, we ought to be looking to Europe’s example and putting our food waste to work. With the proper facilities, it can be used to fuel power plants, and it can always be composted on small and large scales to create fertilizer. We might as well be tossing money in the landfill when we put food scraps in there,” said Walsh (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Westerly, New Shoreham).

Massachusetts and Connecticut have similar requirements aimed at large institutions, and a Vermont law will require recycling of all commercial and residential food waste by 2020.

To read Walsh's legislation in its entirety, go here

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Safety Assessment with School Construction 

Rep. James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls) has introduced legislation that would ban school building construction on any property at risk of ground shifting or caving as a direct result of the site being a former mine.

“I have been loud and clear on this issue from the very beginning, and I’m upset that more people aren’t more concerned about the possibility of children being injured because construction is allowed on these sites,” McLaughlin said. “Even the risk of any student getting hurt because a city or town did not do its due diligence is very, very alarming to me. This legislation, if enacted, will ensure that no one will ever get hurt because of someone else’s poor decision-making.”

The bill sprung from a controversy in Cumberland over the construction of a new charter elementary school – which won approval from the Planning Board in September – on the site of a 19th century mine shaft, known as the Blackstone Coal Mine (formerly the Valley Falls Coal Mine).

The new school would expand Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy to include grades kindergarten through 4. McLaughlin said he has previously insisted on further geological testing of the site, located across from present-day Cumberland Town Hall, because of concerns he found in a 2005 investigative report from the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

The investigation stated in part: “Based on data obtained onsite and from available mapping, it is our opinion that this complaint is mine related [sic] and poses a threat to the health and safety of the general public."

“It’s in writing here in this Department of the Interior report that this area is unsafe. This is crazy. It might not be the exact same spot over the mine, but we need a more careful review of this site with all of the evidence available," McLaughlin said.

Click here to read McLaughlin's complete proposal. 

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Mandatory Reporting of Elder Abuse 

According to a report by the National Council on Aging, for every one case of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, at least five more go unreported.

To combat this epidemic of underreporting of elder abuse, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin filed legislation on Tuesday to require health care providers to release health care information to appropriate law enforcement personnel if they believe the elder patient is or has been physically, psychologically or sexually abused or neglected. 

The legislation, which passed the Senate last year, was introduced by sponsors Rep. Elaine A. Coderre (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket) and Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich). 

“Due to the nature of elder abuse crimes, time is of the essence,” said Attorney General Kilmartin. “The victims in these cases are often vulnerable and face a myriad of health challenges, thus making a timely investigation more critical to ensure the victim’s availability to participate in the investigation. Moreover, the perpetrator of elder abuse is most often known to the victim, making it less likely for the victim to report. We need to have laws in place to ensure the safety and well being for our most vulnerable citizens.”

In addition, the Attorney General also announced his intent to file legislation extending the statute of limitations for elder exploitation from three years to ten years. 

According to the National Council on Aging, elder financial abuse is regarded as the third most commonly substantiated type of elder abuse. Also underreported, it is estimated the annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse exceeded $2.6 billion annually nationwide. 

 
 

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Comments:

Christopher Lee

"The systematic data collection of traffic stops should continue across departments to monitor trends and disparities over time." Of course, it should. The Institute on Race & Justice at Northeastern University is in the business of making money. The more "racial profiling" it finds, the more money they make. Their findings are suspect.




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