Policing, Prisons, & Criminal Justice | Navigating Police Interactions | Rhode Island
Rhode Island Navigating Police Interactions Q&A
I am often told by police to “move along” from public areas. Is that legal?
Not necessarily. If the area is public and not posted as having particular hours, you generally have a right to be there as long as you are not engaged in any unlawful activity. Public places belong to everyone, and are often also places of public accommodation to which anti-discrimination rules apply. Even if police officers want to deter crime, or suspect some kind of unlawful intent, they have no general right to request people to move from one place to another unless there is unlawful conduct (Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116, 126 (1958)).
What are the general rules about interaction with police?
The presence of individuals who appear to be LGBT — whether because such individuals are displaying symbols such as a rainbow flag or pink triangle or for any other reason — should not trigger any special scrutiny by a police officer, other than a concern for the safety and well-being of those persons that the officer would have for any other person.
Police may, of course, approach a person, and make inquiries. If an officer has “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed, he or she may briefly detain an individual, or stop the person for purposes of investigation (State v. Abdullah, 730 A.2d 1074 (R.I. 1997); State v. Bennett, 430 A.2d 424 (R.I. 1981); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16 (1968). An arrest can only occur upon “probable cause” that a crime has been committed. R.I. Const., Art. I, § 6).
Police sometimes detain a person whom they believe has committed or is about to commit a crime. If the person is not charged with a crime, he or she must be released after two hours (see R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-7-1).
What can I do if I believe I have been improperly treated by the police?
Complaints may be made to any individual police department for matters concerning its officers. Many departments have their own Internal Affairs Divisions which receive and investigate civilian complaints against police officers.
Complaints concerning the State Police in Rhode Island should be made to the Rhode Island State Police Office of Professional Standards, which you can contact at in writing at 311 Danielson Pike, North Scituate, RI 02857, or by phone at (401) 444-1011. Citizen complaint forms are also available on the State Police website at http://risp.ri.gov/documents/PSU/ComplaintComplimentForm.pdf. Complaints should include as much information as possible about the incident, including your name and contact information; the name, rank and badge number (if known) of the officer; the location, date, time and details of the incident; and the names and contact information of any witnesses. Please let GLAD know whenever you make a complaint so that we can track the responsiveness of the various police departments.
In some cases, an individual may decide to pursue a lawsuit — because of injuries, improper detainment, or for some other reason. These matters are highly specialized, and GLAD can make attorney referrals. People can also attempt to seek help from the Attorney General’s Office, Criminal Division at (401) 274-4400.