Mayor Jorge Elorza and Mayor James Diossa joined public safety officials and community members to announce that Providence and Central Falls filed a lawsuit today against United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the Trump Administration from imposing new, inappropriate conditions on certain public safety grants for law enforcement.
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrnes JAG) created in 2005 and named for Edward Byrne, a New York City police officer killed while protecting a Guyanese immigrant, provides state and local police departments throughout the country with funding for crime prevention and education, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives as well as other programs.
“The current administration in Washington claims to support public safety, but then inexplicably and maliciously targets the very grants that support our local police departments,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. “This absurd approach undermines community policing and would make us all less safe. Local police should be focused on preventing serious crime, not shaking down people who forgot to use their turn signal. We are filing this suit alongside the City of Central Falls because the federal administration’s plan would hinder the already demanding work of our police department and increase the risk for all residents. Providence is a welcoming city, we will stand by our values, and we will fight the federal government’s illegal and unconstitutional overreaching.”
In a change of policy, DOJ has imposed new conditions this past year that must be met by states and local municipalities in order to receive this grant funding. New conditions include the certification of compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373, a federal statute that bars restrictions on federal-local sharing of immigration status information; unlimited access to local police stations and law enforcement facilities by United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel to interrogate arrestees; and the requirement that cities provide DHS with at least a 48 hour notice prior to an arrestee’s release, which would require detaining residents longer than is permissible under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“At the heart of Central Falls’ turnaround in recent years has been the community-oriented nature of our police department, made, in part, possible by Byrne JAG funding,” said Central Falls Mayor James Diossa. “We are hopeful that the federal court will order that Central Falls can continue to receive this important funding without the requirement that our police officers become agents of a broken, federal immigration system.”
The Providence Police Department was awarded $212,112 for FY17 and has historically used Byrne JAG program funding to contract with Family Service of Rhode Island for the services of a part-time Bilingual Police Liaison and pay personnel (overtime) to conduct targeted enforcement patrols. The Bilingual Liaison has been crucial in assisting local officers with counseling children and families in crisis, especially those families with limited English proficiency. This funding is critical to enhancing enforcement and supporting the services provided by the Bilingual Liaison to ensure the safety and well-being of all Providence residents.
The Central Falls Police Department was awarded a Byrne JAG award for FY17 in for $28,677. Central Falls has used Byrne JAG funding for a variety of purposes, including $28,961 in 2016 for internet access and tablets for detectives; $25,257 in 2015 for upgrades to the police servers; $26,301 in 2014 for upgrades to video cameras as well as upgrades to their radio and digital recording systems in past years.
These funds are instrumental to public safety operations in both Rhode Island cities, each which have a unique and diverse population. Both the Providence and Central Falls have a deadline of August 10, 2018 to accept the Fiscal Year 2017 Byrne JAG funds awarded, with the new conditions.
Several other United States cities filed similar lawsuits over the issue including Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin announced on Tuesday that Rhode Island would join several states (New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington) in a suit to protect Rhode Island from these funding cuts.
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