DPS bill pulled prior to hearing

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2012

A bill that could have forced the Department of Public Safety to release names and personal information of students involved in campus crimes was withdrawn this month. Just one week before it was set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. John Carnevale, D-Providence, withdrew the legislation after having tried twice to pass it. Most recently, the bill was passed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives last summer but never made it to a vote in the state Senate.

The legislation targeted private police forces in the state ­- like the one the University employs – in an attempt to subject these forces to the existing law on “access to public records.” Public records, as defined by the bill, include many kinds of written and recorded evidence relevant to criminal activity. If bound to comply with the established law, DPS would have been required to release such information pertaining to individuals, including students, associated with reported crimes on campus.

But DPS already releases extensive information to both the Brown community and Providence about crimes that occur under its jurisdiction, said Mark Porter, chief of police and director of public safety.

Carnevale declined to comment on the bill and could not be reached for comment on why he chose to withdraw it.

The University opposed the bill each time it was introduced.

“We think current law and practice are sufficient to ensure our goal of public safety, so we think this legislation is unwarranted,” said Albert Dahlberg, director of state and community relations.

Porter said DPS functions in accordance with the Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities that receive or distribute federal financial aid to disclose information about crime on their campuses. Under the act, schools must release annual security reports, maintain crime logs, issue crime alerts and compile crime statistics. DPS fulfills all these requirements, Porter said. The department maintains a system of alerts for when the campus faces “continuous threats,” such as this semester’s wave of robberies, he said. DPS emails crime alerts to students and also posts them on the department website for the wider community to see, he said. He added that the website includes much of the information mandated by the Clery Act, including incidents up to a year old.

DPS works closely with the Providence Police Department, Porter said. “Our command staff meets with their command staff on a weekly basis,” he said. “They could request information at any time.”

Currently, there is certain information DPS does not release to the public – most notably, the names and personal information of reported criminals. There is no federal or state mandate in place requiring DPS to release such information, Porter said. Releasing police reports with such information in compliance with Carnevale’s legislation could have interfered with DPS’ investigative procedures, he said.

“I can’t think of any colleges that release names,” he added.

The department must consider the privacy issues that could arise if the policy were changed, he said.

State Rep. Raymond Hull, D-Providence, a co-sponsor of the bill, said he recognizes the University’s need to keep certain information private but advocated greater transparency.

The bill did not have the support of some local legislators, such as state Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, who represents the district that includes the University. Ajello said she thought the bill was unlikely to pass because Carnevale had previously struggled to gain support for it on the Senate side.

State Sen. Rhoda Perry P’91, D-Providence, whom Carnevale approached two years ago when he first introduced the bill, told The Herald last semester she did not see a reason for the bill. When Carnevale asked if she was interested in supporting it, “I told him absolutely no, until I talk to the Brown community,” said Perry, who represents Brown’s district on the Senate side. “He didn’t find anyone on this side,” she said.

Ajello pointed out that Carnevale does not represent constituents who would be directly affected by criminal activity at Brown.

“There could be a logic for me, as a representative for the district that includes Brown, to introduce this legislation,” Ajello said. “But none of my constituents have asked me to do so.”


– With additional reporting by Lucy Feldman