PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Facing open police resistance to the powers of a new civilian review board, some 50 concerned citizens attended a review board meeting here last month to urge that the board’s authority not be watered down.

At issue was a statement by the city’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) that the “Police Officers’ Bill of Rights” trumps the civilian board, known as the Providence External Review Authority (PERA), which officially opened in June. FOP said it would take legal action against PERA if it raised any charges against a police officer.

Under a 2002 ordinance, City Council members and the mayor can appoint civilians to PERA to oversee any police misconduct or brutality and to recommend discipline. If an officer is found guilty of misconduct, PERA tells the police chief which category of punishment shall be imposed and recommends a range of penalties. The police chief then imposes the punishment and explains the decision in writing to PERA and the City Council.

While victims still have the option of bringing their case before the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, many community residents regard the department as incapable of objectively investigating its own misconduct.

The community group Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) originally mobilized citizens to press the City Council to create the PERA board, modeled after the Minneapolis External Review Board. PERA’s creation was also supported by the Rhode Island Minority Police Association.

In the face of stepped up police pressure to water down PERA’s powers, many residents, including DARE members, came to its defense at a Sept. 19 hearing. Testimony included a letter from unions and community groups that said if PERA is weakened, justice and accountability would only be illusions.

Signers of the letter, which was drafted by the group Love and Resistance, included the Rhode Island Green Party, SEIU Local 615, American Friends Service Committee of Southern New England, the Young Communist League, the Coalition for Affirmative Action and the Brown University Student-Labor Alliance.

PERA’s board voted later that night behind closed doors to seek legal counsel before it decides on its next steps.

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