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R.I. bans racial profiling by police

PROVIDENCE -- New legislation signed into law by the governor bans racial profiling and aims to reduce discriminatory traffic enforcement by Rhode Island police.

Governor Donald Carcieri signed the legislation July 2 after a study found that police disproportionately stop and search vehicles driven by nonwhites, The Providence Journal reported.

The legislation also provides for a study by the state Justice Commission.

It restricts some police practices thought to contribute to discrimination and requires police departments to examine officers' behavior and report on how they are addressing any racial disparities in traffic stops and searches.

Racial profiling refers to police discrimination against nonwhites in law enforcement. Minority group members have complained for years that they are singled out for motor vehicle stops and searches because of their skin color rather than their driving.

The police have generally denied it, saying that police behavior represented only good law enforcement practice.

Northeastern University reported last July that in more than half of Rhode Island's cities and towns, police disproportionately stopped or searched vehicles driven by minorities.

The study was mandated by the General Assembly and was based on data, gathered by the officers involved, on every police traffic stop in the state in a two-year period.

Data from the study indicated that some Rhode Island police departments searched vehicles driven by nonwhites as much as five times as often as they searched those driven by whites. Meanwhile, police statewide were finding drugs and other contraband in vehicles driven by whites more often than in vehicles driven by nonwhites.

The new law provides for increased scrutiny of police stops and continued study of the issue.

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