PVD City Council battles the self-created perception that the City isn’t safe

Overall, crime is down in Providence, but you might not know that given the things said during an “emergency” meeting of the Providence City Council on Tuesday.
Photo for PVD City Council battles the self-created perception that the City isn’t safe

Published on August 11, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Before the “emergency” meeting of the Providence City Council began on Tuesday evening, Council President John Igliozzi (Ward 7) laid out what he called the rules of engagement. The four invited speakers – Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré, Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements, Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Michael Imondi and the Nonviolence Institute‘s Executive Director Cedric Huntley – would each have opening statements of five minutes, followed by members of the City Council who would all get three minutes. That’s not the way it went. Few if any at the meeting stuck to President Igliozzi’s time limits, including Igliozzi himself.

See also: Steve Ahlquist: Violence in Providence has been politically weaponized

The Providence City Council does not ordinarily meet during the month of August, but this emergency meeting was called to deal with “public safety crisis/concerns including but not limited to public safety action plan to address an increase in violent crime, enforcement of an ordinance prohibiting ATVs, public safety budget and staffing, perception of public safety and impact on City and neighborhoods, and a presentation by public safety in response to prepared questions.”

The meeting’s jumble of concerns made disambiguating real from imagined issues very difficult. Shifting from violent crimes like shootings and stabbings to legitimate public safety concerns related to ATVs made the meeting seem disjointed. To some city councilmember to link ingviolent crime and ATV riding seemed the intent, but aside from a very few incidents, ATV riders as a whole are not responsible for violent crimes. They are at worst a danger to the smooth flow of traffic and pedestrians, but ordinarily there is no violent intent at play.

“Without a doubt in the past three to five weeks we’ve had an uptick and a cycle of crime and violence,” said Providence public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré. “What we’re faced with in the last few years with ATVs running rampant through the City – we’re not tone deaf to that. We have strategized and talked across the country because this isn’t happening just in Providence. It’s happening throughout the country. And there’s not an easy solution.”

Turning to one of the reasons for this uptick, Commissioner Paré noted “There’s a lot of guns on the streets… We wish we had a solution to stop this gun violence, we’re doing everything that we possibly can.”

“Crime, what we’re seeing is eerily consistent with what’s going on around the country,” said Providence police Chief Hugh Clements. “In particular here, all crime is down, believe it or not. We’ve had an horrific four, five, six week run, but the data is the data… and crime is down…

“What isn’t down are shootings in the last couple of weeks, and homicide,” said Chief Clements. “What we’ve seen is more lethality around the country, and that ‘s happening here in Providence as well, where we’ll see a crime scene where maybe there years ago or ten years ago we’d have a small amount of ballistics, and today we’re seeing crime scenes with 25, 28, 61 shell casings on the scene.”

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Chief Clements presented his case that presently the Providence Police Department has too few officers to engage in community policing. 448 officers would be the minimum number of officers needed, right now the Department have 404 officers on duty, and less when you count those who are of for various reasons.

“We continued to drive crime down right up until the middle of 2020” said Chief Clements. “In the middle of 2020 the pandemic occurred, George Floyd occurred, voices were heard and there was a lot of mixed messaging going on throughout the City and throughout this country.

“And we became demonized and villainized for some things, quite frankly, we didn’t do in Providence. I will say we have our issues in the Providence Police Department and those issues are dealt with. People are held accountable.”

26 members of the Providence Police Department have been terminated or forced to retire during Clements’ tenure as Chief.

“We’ve seized this year, with an arrest, 143 firearms,” said Chief Clements. “Last year, this same time, 43.”

FOP President Michael Imondi said that many members of the Providence police Department don’t feel supported by the Elorza Administration. President Imondi said that too often his officers are thrown under the bus when incidents happen, and often before all the facts are in.

Pushing past data, President Imondi maintained that, “Stats don’t tell all the stories. The public’s perception is part of the story. And what they see on the news and what they believe in their heads is what’s going to drive Providence to be beautiful city again… and have that feeling that they used to have of providence being a great city and not one they want to avoid coming into or afraid to bring their families into.”

Providence Police Officers “have our incidents here and there, it may look bad and whatnot, and some may actually be that bad and some have been, and we’re not taking away from that,” said President Imondi. “Those officers are going to be held accountable, whichever ones go outside their scope of duties. We’re not here to protect that or protect them. We’re here to protect the officers that do it right and get demonized for doing it right.”

“When things happen, because of our relationship and partnership with law enforcement, oftentimes I’m on the phone. I may call the Commissioner, I may call the Chief,” said Cedric Huntley, Executive Director of the Nonviolence Institute, noting the Institute’s 18 year relationship with the Providence police Department.

The City’s councilmembers spoke next, some with statements, some with questions.

Absent City Councilmember Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12) said the following on Twitter:

Councilmember Kerwin added, “More police alone is not the solution to violence- at its root is a problem we need to address as a community by investing in the futures of young people who feel they have nothing to live for because of poverty, lack of resources, and decades of little investment in our city.

“Also, enough with the fear tactics from people outside of Providence. Our City is not lawless and our streets are not to be avoided.”

A statement from absent Councilmember Michael Correia (Ward 6) was read to the Council. Councilmember Correia said that the Providence Police have his full support:

Providence City Councilmember Nicholas Narducci Jr (Ward 4) told Commissioner Paré that he should be more supportive of his officers and not go to the press before full investigations have been done.

Councilmember Narducci also played into the fear mongering when he said, “We have people who used to look forward to going to Federal Hill on a Friday or Saturday night and have dinner. Many in my community, many of them older people in my community will not go to Federal Hill anymore. We got people who are afraid to stop at stop signs and red lights because of what occurred last week…

“I will not support defunding the police. I will support refunding the police,” said Councilmember Narducci. (Note: The Providence City Council never, for an instant, considered defunding the police. During the entire budgeting process the Providence City Council worked to increase the police budget, and did so.)

“We know at this point in time the criminals – the guns that are out there are not legal guns. They’re illegal guns being used by criminals – that are probably better weapons, better automatic weapons, than the men and women of our police department have…

“We all seen the situation on Sayles Street escalate,” said Councilmember Narducci, “and we had one police officer, Commissioner, that made a comment, ‘Does anybody want more?’ Well you know what Commissioner, after that comment was made, that crowd calmed down. That officer did his job. That officer did not deserve ten days suspension. No way.”

“Really?” asked Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, co-executive director of the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) from the audience.

“Yeah really,” said Councilmember Narducci. “He did not deserve ten days suspension. Maybe a day, but not ten days.”

Narducci was speaking about Providence Police Officer Patrick Hourahan, who, after pepper spraying people on Sayles Street in June, taunted them, saying, “Who wants some more?” Officer Hourahan was given a ten day suspension for his words, which were not helping to deescalate the situation.

Narducci closed by saying the Providence City Council needs to support the Providence Police Department.

The audio on the Providence City Council Youtuibe video of the meeting is muted at this point. Fortunately Uprise RI was recording as well.

Off duty police officers in the room burst into applause for Councilmember Narducci. PrYSM members in th room loudly booed, to which Councilmember Narducci gave them a sarcastic thumbs up.

Vanessa Flores-Maldonado stood up. “I’m wondering why PrSYM and DARE, who wrote the Community Safety Act, were not invited to be part of this.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, we’re in th middle of a meeting,” said Council President Igliozzi.

“And why community members are not being given a chance to talk about this?” Continued Flores-Maldonado.

“Ma’am, I respectfully request that you please take your seat,” said President Igliozzi.

“This is very alarming, Igliozzi,” said Flores-Maldonado. Pointing to Councilmember Narducci, she asked the Council President, “Did you just hear that racist stuff?”

“Madam, I ask that you please take your seat,” repeated President Igliozzi.

“I can’t believe you’re okay with this,” said Flores-Maldonado, sitting down. “That’s so racist.”

“Thank you,” said Igliozzi.

Councilmember David Salvatore (Ward 14):

Councilmember Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5):

Councilmember James Taylor (Ward 8) called for the immediate resignation of Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré. Commissioner Paré did not resign.

Councilmember John Goncalves (Ward 1):

Councilmember Pedro Espinal (Ward 10):

“When we talk about violent crime we have an opportunity to bring many more people to this table,” said Councilmember Rachel Miller (Ward 13). Turning to the invited presenters, she continued, “So while I really appreciate your time tonight… there have got to be more voices, Mr President, as we talk about solutions to this.

“Many people around the country, and I think we would be well served by thinking about it this way as well, consider violent crime to be a public health issue. Consider it to be an epidemic…”

Councilmember spoke about a program of violence interruption that has been modeled in many cities as a possibility.

Councilmember Miller also noted that the pandemic closed recreation centers and schools, distancing young people from positive social interactions with their peers. “I think we failed a pretty significant proportion of our community that has counted on those interactions for a long time,” said Councilmember Miller.

Councilmember Salvatore held the microphone for 19 minutes. Councilmember Ryan for for nearly 15 minutes. Councilmember Goncalves for over 21 minutes. No City Councilmember had spoken for less than six minutes.

When Council President Igliozzi interrupted Councilmember Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), it was the first time he interrupted a speaking councilmember, after she spoke for a little over seven minutes.

Councilmember LaFortune noted that many organizations in Providence run programs in need of funding, programs that could well keep young people out of trouble.

Councilmember Helen Anthony (Ward 2):

Councilmember Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11):

Councilmember Oscar Perez (Ward 15):

“Clearly law enforcement has been able to eradicate organized crime, take care of some of the prostitution issues, drug dealing, we just talked about taking guns off the street,” said Council President John Igliozzi. “But we seem to be vexed on this criminal crew of the ATV riders and not able to put together a true, concrete plan on how to address it.”

Igliozzi had heard testimony from both Commissioner Paré and Chief Clements about how the issue of ATV riders has been nationwide, and no city has had great success in combatting it.

“I’m looking for a concrete action plan,” said President Igliozzi, pumping his fist. “What is it?”

President Igliozzi then asked if the Chief had taken up Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee offer of a federally funded Neighborhood Response Team where “low-ranking” state troopers help out in Providence. “It’s a yes or no question said the Council President, but it wasn’t.

Chief Clements explained that he had accepted the offer, but noted that the federal funding amounted to $40,000. It’s not a lot of money,” said Chief Clements, “We’ll run through that fairly quickly.”

Clements reiterate that contrary to what politicians have said in the press, the providence Police Department routinely asks for State Police assistance. “When we’ve asked for the assistance of the State police, whether it be public demonstrations, public assemblies… yes, we have in the past, we will in the future.”

Then, startlingly, President Igliozzi hinted that a pending $110 million in Covid relief money could be used for law enforcement purposes. “We can use that for anything,” said the Council President.

Disputing that Providence is a safe city, President Igliozzi rejected data and facts, saying, “Statistics don’t tell the true tale. If someone does not feel comfortable in their neighborhood, in their home, on their street, it doesn’t matter how many times you tell them the crime statistics are down…

“So we need to make them more comfortable… We need to make our businesses feel comfortable. We need tomato our visitors feel comfortable. All right? We need to turn it around.”

Councilmember Carmen Castillo (Ward 9):

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