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McKee signs LEOBOR reform into law

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McKee signs LEOBOR reform into law

Jun 12, 2024 | 12:02 pm ET
By Christopher Shea
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McKee signs LEOBOR reform into law
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Left to right, Deputy House Speaker Raymond Hull, a Providence Democrat, Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas F. Oates III, and Gov. Dan McKee pose for a photo after McKee signed into law legislation to reform the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) on Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in a State Room ceremony. (Office of the Governor)

A historic overhaul for investigating and disciplining police officers accused of misconduct was signed into law by Gov. Dan McKee on Tuesday.

Calls to change, or even eliminate, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) have dominated debate on Smith Hill since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. Rhode Island’s 1976 law has been criticized by social justice advocates who say it’s unfair for police to review internal misconduct.

Legislative stalemate finally broke after House and Senate leaders reached a compromise on the makeup of the new hearing panels.

“Today’s bills answer the public’s call for greater transparency around potential police misconduct, while safeguarding officers’ rights to due process,” McKee said in a statement Tuesday. “By signing this legislation into law today, we have made sure that police chiefs are able to be more transparent with the public about misconduct investigations.”

The new law, sponsored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, and Deputy House Speaker Raymond Hull, a Providence Democrat, increases the size of panels that will review LEOBOR cases from three to five members. Panelists must include three randomly selected officers, a retired judge, and an attorney “selected in consultation with the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s committee on racial and ethnic fairness.”

The updated measure also removes the prohibition preventing police chiefs from making public statements about cases that have not yet had a LEOBOR hearing or releasing video evidence.

Police chiefs can also suspend officers for longer: five days for those accused of minor infractions and 14 days for those facing more serious complaints, such as excessive force or felonies. 

Under the law passed in 1976, suspension without pay is now two days before the right to a LEOBOR hearing kicks in. 

“While there will be some who say this bill goes too far and others who say it doesn’t go far enough, I think the bill strikes a responsible balance that brings necessary and appropriate reforms to LEOBOR,” Ruggerio said in a statement. 

Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association President Bradford Connor said in a statement the new reforms will increase transparency and help local departments grow trust within their communities.

“Public trust is the most important tool we have as police officers,” said Connor, who is the police chief for Warwick Police Department. “We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with legislative leaders and community advocates on this legislation and to have a true voice in this legislative process.” 

Following its passage in the Senate June 6, Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC Director Harrison Tuttle issued a statement lamenting that lawmakers excluded a provision to let police chiefs immediately fire officers found to have used deadly force in violation of departmental rules.

The changes take effect Jan. 1, 2025.