Elorza rebuts accusations that he refused state police help

Updated at 2:34 p.m. on August 6, 2021.

MAYOR JORGE O. ELORZA on Friday rebutted accusations that he had refused R.I. State Police assistance in addressing crime in the city. / PBN FILE PHOTO/STEPHANIE ALVAREZ EWENS

PROVIDENCE – Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza on Friday addressed recent violence in the capital city, countering prior accusations that he had refused to accept help from state law enforcement and pledging to reinstill a sense of safety in the community. 

In a virtual call with reporters, Elorza spoke about recent letters from both Gov. Daniel J. McKee and Council President John J. Igliozzi in which McKee offered, and Igliozzi subsequently asked for, R.I. State Police troopers to assist Providence Police Department officers in patrolling the city. Elorza characterized both letters as “odd,” insisting that state and city law enforcement are already working together, including a new joint operation that began Aug. 1.

He later said of McKee’s letter, “either he is being disingenuous or he doesn’t know what is own police department is doing.” 

In an emailed response on Friday, Alana O’Hare, a spokeswoman for McKee, said, “The governor has offered to engage the Rhode Island State Police Neighborhood Response Team to partner with the Providence Police Department with the intended purpose of improving public safety. Two letters were sent to the mayor offering this support, but unfortunately the governor has not received a response from the Mayor. To date, the NRT has not been deployed on an ongoing basis in the City of Providence.”

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Igliozzi declined to comment except to say he stood by his original statement and did not want to “get caught up in political tomfoolery.”

Elorza’s remarks come amid a wave of highly publicized violent crime, including a 24-year-old woman who was killed in a drive-by shooting over the weekend and, in a separate incident, a group of all-terrain vehicle riders who pulled a woman from her car and beat her early Tuesday.

One person has been arrested and charged in conjunction with the ATV incident, although the case remains under investigation, various news outlets have reported.

Until Friday, Elorza has been largely silent on the matter – save for a three-sentence press release on Aug. 4 condemning the ATV attack – despite calls from other city and state lawmakers and community residents to address what they say is a spike in violence.

Asked by a reporter about his absence from the state during a time of crisis – away on a planned family vacation –  Elorza said he has been in touch with city law enforcement leaders “constantly.” 

Acknowledging the fear among community residents, Elorza on Friday pledged to continue working with city and state law enforcement and “brainstorming” solutions. On ATVS, specifically, he pointed to his administration’s “aggressive” crackdown measures, including seizure of more than 200 vehicles off the streets and, when possible, police chases to track down riders found on city streets. ATVs are banned across the state anywhere except private property.  

Elorza earlier this year floated the idea of creating a designated space where ATV and dirt bike riders could use their vehicles legally. On Friday, he said he was still open to the idea, but that initial exploration proved there were several hurdles to overcome, including finding land to buy or lease. 

“Make no mistake, that is not going to solve the entire issue,” he said. “We’re not just talking about kids looking for an outlet. It’s the thrill of evading the police or the thrill of doing something illegal,” Elorza said.

Elorza also addressed the relationship between crime and public perception. While homicides have increased in 2020 and in the first half of 2021 compared to prior years, other types of crime, including other violent crime, are down citywide, and are nowhere near historical highs.

“There definitely is this disconnect between actual crime and perceptions of crime,” he said. “But perception truly is reality when it comes to public safety. If people don’t feel safe that’s an issue.”

Elorza chalked up the heightened fear around crime and safety in part to social media, which allows instant access and sharing of incidents that might otherwise not get much attention.

He also noted that while shootings have not increased, the number of shootings in which people died have, often in conjunction with more shots fired and shell casings left at the scene. He reiterated prior calls to crack down on illegal gun sales as a means to combat this source of crime.

Update: Adds paragraph four with comments from the governor’s office.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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