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Profiling bill aims to curb traffic stop bias in R.I.

PROVIDENCE -- Police would be prohibited from asking passengers of a car for identification after a traffic stop unless criminal activity is suspected, under an antiracial-profiling bill announced by state legislators yesterday.

The bill also would require police to document in writing their grounds for searching a vehicle and would bar officers from asking about immigration status, except in certain circumstances.

"This legislation is aimed at taking the bias out of traffic stops by creating standards for every officer in the state to follow," said Representative Joseph Almeida, a retired Providence police officer who is filing the bill along with Senator Rhoda Perry.

They said the legislation was in response to incidents last summer and fall they contend were racially motivated.

In July, a state trooper stopped a van carrying Guatemalan nationals on Interstate 95 and temporarily detained the vehicle.

The van, initially pulled over for failing to use a turn signal when switching lanes, was escorted to a federal immigration office in Providence after the driver and passengers were unable to show proof of their US citizenship.

The new legislation would prohibit authorities from using a minor traffic violation as a pretext for stopping a vehicle for other reasons.

It would also prevent police from inquiring about someone's immigration status or demanding documentation -- except when required by federal law or in other select circumstances.

Perry said statistics compiled in the past few years showed that minorities continued to face a disproportionate number of traffic stops.

Major Steven O'Donnell, a spokesman for the Rhode Island State Police, said yesterday that he wanted to review the legislation before commenting on it.