Politics & Elections

Mayoral Candidate Brett Smiley on crime and policing in Providence

“I’ve heard from multiple police officers saying that the thing a good cop hates the most is a bad cop. They put [good cops] at risk and they put the community at risk. So we absolutely have to hold police accountable if they violate the code of conduct, if they abuse the citizenry,” said Smiley. “However, a majority of police in Providence, a majority of law enforcement in Rhode Island, are doing the right thing, are thoughtful, engaged public safety officer, skilled and well-trained professionals, and we do need to rebuild that trust.”
Photo for Mayoral Candidate Brett Smiley on crime and policing in Providence

Published on August 5, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Providence Mayoral Candidate Brett Smiley held a downtown press conference on Thursday to talk about the recent rise in crime and violence in the city.

“In the past few weeks we’ve seen an uptick in violent crime in our community,” said Smiley. “This week alone, two women were attacked – one murdered, another brutally assaulted. And during this time we’ve heard almost nothing leaders at the City and State level about what they’re going to do to stop it.”

Smiley stressed that all available resources, including the offer of having the State Police assist Providence, must be accepted. Because ATVs move from city to city, the State Police would be particularly helpful in “dealing with the ATV Problem,” said Smiley.

“There’s not one solution to this problem,” said Smiley. “It starts with making sure that our police force has the tools, staff and most importantly the support it needs to keep our city safe.

“And if this is about money – we need to make the funding available for extra shifts, overtime, whatever it takes.”

Other ideas suggested by Smiley:

  • “We need to expand the summer jobs program immediately. And we need to keep the recreation centers open as late as anyone will use them.”
  • “It’s critical that we retain the partnerships we have forged with folks like the Institute for Nonviolence and Family Services.
  • “And it’s important that we continue to forge relationships between the community and the police. That means police attending more community meetings, making themselves more available. Walking the beat when possible, riding their bikes and getting out of cruisers, when possible, so we can break down barriers and strengthen that relationship where there’s a lack of trust.”

Diversion programs are also important, said Smiley. The City is currently exploring a pilot program where social workers and addiction professionals will respond to certain calls, rather that sending armed police officers. This would “free up officers to respond to violent and gun crime.”

“We know that not every 911 call needs an officer with a gun to respond,” said Smiley.

Asked by UpriseRI about comments made by police officers in Providence about the community they serve, referring to residents as “animals” and other disparaging, disrespectful remarks, Smiley responded that,

“I’ve heard from multiple police officers saying that the thing a good cop hates the most is a bad cop. They put [good cops] at risk and they put the community at risk. So we absolutely have to hold police accountable if they violate the code of conduct, if they abuse the citizenry,” said Smiley. “However, a majority of police in Providence, a majority of law enforcement in Rhode Island, are doing the right thing, are thoughtful, engaged public safety officer, skilled and well-trained professionals, and we do need to rebuild that trust.

“There’s a serious trust deficit right now. There’s a deficit of trust between the community and the police. There’s also a deficit of trust between the police and [political leaders]. This is why we need additional outreach, additional communication, additional participation in community forums, all of those things – so that we can start to close that trust deficit and rebuild confidence in our police department -while also holding police officers accountable if they commit malpractice or abuse.”

“Do you support the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights?” asked UpriseRI

“I support changes to the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights,” said Smiley. “I don’t support the wholesale repeal.”

The murder of Miya Brophy-Baermann in Providence has gotten a great deal of attention, but the murder of Tatyana Shawnte Francis in Pawtucket got much less attention and did not result in calls for more policing. Noting that there may be racial reasons for that, UpriseRI asked Smiley for his thoughts.

“It has definitely occurred to me and not failed my attention that certain communities and communities of color have been dealing with violent crime, frankly murder, in their communities for some time,” said Smiley. “And now that we seem to have reached a boiling point, it’s important to acknowledge the crime and history of violence in certain communities that is just as valid and concerning as recent crime.

“So it’s unfortunate to me that there may be an additional component to this, but that doesn’t stop our need to act now.”

“One other thing on ATV riders,” said UpriseRI. “Not all ATV riders are attacking people. It seems to be a pretty rare occurrence.”

“Yes,” agreed Smiley.

“So when we take a strong stance against all ATV riders because of this one incident, is that exactly fair?” Asked UpriseRI. “What are your thoughts on that?”

“My understanding is that the Mayor has, and if I were Mayor I would be meeting as well [with ATV riders],” said Smiley. “I think it’s totally appropriate to explore an off-road, safe, appropriate place for them to ride their vehicles. And I don’t have any objection to that and I understand that’s a recreational opportunity that’s appealing to a lot of people in the City.

“However, every ATV on the street is illegal. So I have no tolerance for illegal activity that’s jeopardizing the health and safety of the riders, and of pedestrians and other drivers on the streets.

“So yes, we should be looking for safe and appropriate places for them to consider riding and exploring their hobby; yes, I’m very interested in speaking to them and hear what they might want to do, but as it pertains to ATVs on public streets, they are illegal and therefore should not be able to operate on our streets.”

Here’s the full video:

Here’s Brett Smiley’s full written statement to the press:

Statement from Mayoral Candidate Brett Smiley on Recent Violence in Providence

Today Providence mayoral candidate Brett Smiley released the following statement on the recent uptick in violence across the city.

“Today I am calling on all our elected leaders today to put politics aside and accept all additional resources that are made available to us, including the assistance of our state police, to restore a sense of safety to our capital city.

“The uptick in violent crime isn’t just in one neighborhood, this is happening throughout our community. There is no one solution to this problem: it requires a comprehensive approach. But one thing is for sure, addressing this challenge starts with making sure our police force has the tools, staff, and perhaps most importantly, the support it needs to keep us safe. And we must recommit to community policing, building trust between the police and the community it serves.

“To restore a sense of safety to our city, we also need to ensure opportunity in our city. That means immediate and significant investments in opportunities for youth– employment, education and recreation. City government should expand our current summer jobs program and keep the recreation centers open as late as our youth will use them.

“It is critical that we maintain the partnership with our community leaders, partner organizations and the teaching of non-violence in our neighborhoods. Finally, we need to stay the path on exploring creative alternatives– like diversion programs and on-call behavioral health responses– that will free up officers to focus on violent crime. We know that not every 911 call needs a response with an officer with a gun.

“But right now, we need all our elected leaders to set aside politics, set aside ego and gamesmanship, and work together to restore a sense of safety to our capital city.”

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