During the meeting, PERA staff explained that police department resistance has contributed to delays in resolving a dozen investigations into complaints of police misconduct. 

“We have begun the process of submitting our investigations to the police department,” PERA Executive Director Jose Batista said. “For a long time we had not submitted them because we were having difficulty creating a process that was going to fulfill our obligations under the statute.”

PERA Investigator Eugene Monteiro said one stumbling block is that the police department wants him to request records through the Internal Affairs division. 

“Even if there’s no current investigation, they’re going to review all information before they pass it on to us,” Monteiro explained. 

His concern is that upon viewing the records the police department could launch its own investigation of an incident, which could further impede PERA’s request for records. 

This summer, the Public Safety Department refused to release video footage of an incident where an officer is accused of assaulting a man in handcuffs, citing the pending criminal case against the officer. PERA asked the City Council to subpoena the footage on its behalf, a process that would be prohibitively cumbersome for individual complaints. City solicitor Jeffrey Dana confirmed that, depending on the facts of each case, the police department could use an open investigation as a reason to withhold records.

Montiero added, “The best way for [investigations] to happen is there needs to be some connection directly to records.” 

PERA board members urged the investigator to proceed despite the difficulties establishing a process for accessing records. 

“Whether they want to do [an internal investigation] or not, if we deem it necessary to do an independent investigation, I think that’s something we should be doing,” said vice chair Machiste Rankin. 

“I agree with that,” chimed in board member Michael Fontaine. “They can’t withhold evidence for us not to perform a parallel investigation.” 

Batista hinted that he has discussed revising the statute that grants PERA legal authority with the office of the city council. 

“There have been a lot of questions about what’s going on, what can we do, how can we improve this situation,” Batista told the board. “One of those projects is amending the PERA ordinance to better reflect the needs that we have that we addressed in this meeting."

Batista also raised concerns that the workload of the oversight body’s lone part-time investigator has ballooned as the board begins to make progress on investigations. He raised the possibility of allocating additional funds to pay for additional investigative staff or consultants. 

PERA board chair Nick Figueroa assured people who have filed complaints, “We are working diligently and will do everything in our authority to resolve those cases as quickly as possible.” 

“We’re in a place now where we have to begin producing results, whether they’re for or against,” he added. “But we have to begin to end the process of having challenges in retrieving data or information from the [police] department.”

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During the meeting, PERA also heard from legal observers with the National Lawyers Guild who said they’re concerned by tactics used by police at protests in Providence this summer.

Citing police use of riot gear, batons, and police vehicles, attorney Jing Marcos commented, “It seems to me that the police here really were not just prepared for an escalation, but promoting it by the way that they showed up." 

Attorney Benjamin Evans said he was especially concerned by the difference in police treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters and Back The Blue protesters at a rally on July 23rd. 

“These are examples of the ways in which the Providence Police Department is not able to fairly and neutrally regulate these first amendment activities when the subject of these first amendment activities is the police themselves,” Evans said. 

PERA is already looking into police response to that protest and counter-protest. Evans also told the oversight board that police have repeatedly blocked legal observers from viewing arrests, and said he was shoved to the ground by one officer.