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City Council president asks McKee to send state police to Providence to help stop crime

The request bypasses the mayor, who is on vacation, and comes after ATV and dirt bike riders attacked a woman stopped at a traffic light in the city

ATV riders and motorcyclists burn out during a protest against Providence police outside Knight Memorial Library in October 2020.
ATV riders and motorcyclists burn out during a protest against Providence police outside Knight Memorial Library in October 2020.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — With Mayor Jorge Elorza out of town and an increase in crime over the last week in the capital city, City Council President John Igliozzi sent a letter to Governor Dan McKee on Thursday, asking him to deploy Rhode Island State Police troopers to assist Providence Police in stopping the crime that has left the city reeling.

“This wave of violent crime is unacceptable, and we need to act immediately to restore public safety and make our city’s residents once again feel safe walking and sitting outside in their own neighborhoods,” wrote Igliozzi to the governor. “Like the rest of Rhode Island, the capital city re-opened in recent months as the pandemic improved, and residents and visitors alike have resumed dining out, listening to live music, and patronizing our small businesses.”

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He added, “The rampant violence we are experiencing threatens all of that; we need to ensure that Providence is welcoming and inviting for everyone who lives and visits here.”

Igliozzi told the Globe Thursday that he told Elorza’s staff to make them “well aware” that he was moving forward with the letter to McKee.

“[Elorza] has refused to help with this. As the president of city council, as a lifelong resident, I know we have a public safety crisis. We need to get our streets back,” he told the Globe.

Igliozzi said the Providence police department is “stretched thin” with only 400 officers, down from the approximately 500 officers employed when the city “successfully implemented community policing.” He said it was one of the main drivers behind the decline in violent crime in the city during the 2000s.

Igliozzi said the City Council has approved funding to ramp up the police academy for the last several years, but said they are now frustrated that the administration has been “using those funds for other things.”

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“We’re low on man and woman power in the police force,” said Igliozzi, who said Elorza’s administration has also dismantled the gang database. “Enough is enough. We need to counteract the bad policies that the administration has been pushing.”

On Tuesday, a woman driving with her 8-year-old daughter, her puppy, and a friend was waiting at a traffic light when a group of ATV and dirt bike riders in Smith Hill surrounded her car, dragged her out, and beat her.

Elorza’s office said the city has “seized and destroyed” more than 200 bikes and that the city will “continue to pull over and arrest people who are using these bikes illegally.”

Providence City Councilors have called for an emergency meeting early next week, and said they want to hear from the mayor, police, and Safety Commissioner Steven Paré for a comprehensive plan to address the increase in violence in the capital city.

But the councilors have a history of having to publicly press the mayor to enforce the multiple laws the council has enacted to “mitigate the dangers and nuisance of all-terrain vehicle,” meaning ATVs.

Recreational off-road vehicles are banned by law from operating on the city’s streets since they are not designated for the streets. But despite the multiple ordinances passed by the city, the clusters of roaring ATVs and loud puttering of dirt bikes continue to create what the Council calls a “public safety concern” for motorists, pedestrians, and residents.

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When Finance Chairwoman Jo-Ann Ryan of Ward 5 was a freshman councilor, she said she worked on drafting and enacting legislation that would keep ATVs off the city streets, creating and created a “clear, legal framework that prohibited the operation of illegal ATVs” and giving Providence Police the power to seize and destroy them.

“Yet years later, these laws are not being enforced to the level that is warranted, or at all. Our city is still facing the major threats to traffic and pedestrian safety that ATVs create. Significant action from the Mayor is overdue,” said Ryan recently.

Igliozzi said the council “consistently hears silence from the administration” on the matter. Because of the recent uptick in crime, some are calling for Elorza and Paré to step down. Igliozzi said he’d rather focus on the people of Providence and business owners.

“First we need to address the problem, then we can see if these people are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution,” said Igliozzi.

In the meantime, violent crime involving ATVs seems to be on the rise in Providence.

In March, two men were arrested by Cranston police after leading police on a chase through Cranston and Providence on their ATVs. Isiah Allen, 23, and Chevin Gobern, 28, both of Providence, faced charges including reckless driving, eluding police, and disorderly conduct.

In January, a Cranston police officer was struck and injured by a group of riders he was attempting to stop. Nine people were arrested and charged in that incident, according to an earlier statement made by Cranston Police Chief Colonel Michael Winquist.

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And in 2020, eight men were charged with sexually assaulting an unconscious girl after the video of the assault was shared on Facebook. But one of the men, Richard Tarell Chester, 20, of Seekonk, Massachusetts, who was allegedly seen on the video raping the girl and laughing at her, had a lengthy criminal record.

In February 2020, Chester was charged with beating up a father in front of the man’s 3-year-old daughter at Neutaconkanut Park. The victim, who remains unidentified, told police that Chester and another man attacked him when he asked Chester not to ride his dirt bike near the children.

“Every week, there is a new story about an accident, injury or traffic jam caused by these reckless drivers. It is time the administration takes action and protects our residents,” said Igliozzi.

Cranston and Providence police created a joint task force in March to keep illegal ATVs and dirt bikes off city streets. The cities of Johnston and Cranston both border Igliozzi’s district.

“These illegal riders are not tolerated in those cities. But here, they run rampant,” he said.

In October 2020, rider Jhamal Gonsalves was severely injured in an officer-involved moped crash as officers were attempting to round up hundreds of off-road vehicles. Shortly after, hundreds gathered on foot and on dirt bikes in a rally, marching and riding to the Providence Public Safety Complex.

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.