Limited Civilian Review Does Not Violate Police Bill of Rights

In 2002, the City of Providence, Rhode Island adopted an ordinance establishing the Providence External Review Authority (PERA). The ordinance vested PERA with the authority to receive complaints, conduct investigations and hearings, make findings of fact, and, if appropriate, forward recommendations of discipline to the Chief of Police. The Providence Lodge No. 3 of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) challenged the PERA ordinance in court, contending that it conflicted with the Rhode Island statutory Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court rejected the FOP’s argument. The Court recognized that the Bill of Rights is “the exclusive remedy for permanently appointed law enforcement officers who are under investigation and subject to disciplinary action by a law enforcement agency for noncriminal allegations of misconduct.” However, the Court found that since PERA was not a “law enforcement agency,” the provisions of the Bill of Rights did not apply.

As the Court reasoned, “the PERA scheme does not provide for an investigation by a law enforcement agency nor does it allow for police discipline. The civilian members of PERA are limited to making a recommendation to the Chief of Police. The Chief of Police is vested with the authority to impose discipline or to decline to do so.

“Whether or not the City maintains a review board similar to PERA, the discretionary determination to impose discipline always rests with the Chief of Police. Until such a decision is made by a police chief, the hearing provision of the Bill of Rights and the ensuing procedural steps are not operative. The PERA ordinance does not conflict with the Bill of Rights.”

Providence Lodge No. 3, FOP v. Providence External Review Authority, 2008 WL 2688948 (R.I. 2008).

This article appears in the November 2008 issue