Police are NOT the law: They shouldn’t have to be reminded

Justice Gaines

On January 25, the Providence Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #3 issued a statement on Facebook and Twitter making a claim that the uptick in shootings this past week are a result of the January 1 implementation of the PCPRA, otherwise known as the Community Safety Act (CSA). It’s a bold claim, and as Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré already said, “There’s just no evidence or basis for it.”

But this statement is not just false, it’s utterly reckless.

The merits of the CSA had been debated for over three years. On June 1, 2017, however, this ordinance became law. Again, the Providence Community-Police Relations Act, otherwise known as the Community Safety Act, IS law.

In their posts, the FOP state that the CSA was brought forward by “anti-police groups with the idea of controlling and restraining police interactions with the public.”

This statement should be concerning to any resident or citizen of Providence regardless of your politics or your opinion of community organizations that focus on policing. Police officers are public servants. Police officers are responsible for public safety. Police officers should be responsible to the public. City residents working with elected public officials have every right to demand and determine how police interact with the public. If the FOP believes that police officers should not be subject to the public’s scrutiny or regulation, they have clearly misinterpreted the role of police officers in our society.

The statement continues this troubling insinuation asserting, “police officers have had their legal authority improperly questioned even though the officers are acting within the scope of their duty.”

Police aren’t just public servants, they are public servants with the authority to arrest and kill under specific circumstances. Because police officers are legally ordained with this incredible amount of power, it is not only the right but the duty of of individuals to always question this authority. It would be improper not to assure that the authority the public grants our officers is being used justly and appropriately. Any individual even acutely concerned their rights are not being respected should have the ability to ensure that they are through questions. And public servants, be they officers or officials, should be ready and able to answer those questions. Answering to the public is the duty of public servants, especially those with deeply consequential authority.

Both of these comments highlight the underlying message of the FOP’s statement. This statement holds that the public is subject to police officers’ authority rather than police officers’ authority being subject to the public. This statement suggests that public governance is a burden to police work rather than the guiding principle of police work. Assessing from this statement, the FOP believes police ARE the law.

But that’s obviously not true. Police are meant to uphold the law, but the law is separate from and greater than the police. Police too are subject to the law and to the public. The CSA, the Providence Community-Police Relations Act, that is the law. A law that was developed by the community through a public process. It’s police officers’ duty to uphold it. For the FOP to dismiss the law as burdensome to their authority isn’t just reckless, it’s dangerous.

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About Justice Gaines 1 Article
Justice Gaines is an organizer and poet in Providence, and served on the City Council's Community Safety Act Working Group.

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