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Monday 21 September 2020
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City Council Calls for Deeper Cut in RPD Funding

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

City Council President Loretta Scott on June 15, 2020, at a news conference to discuss policing and the proposed city budget. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Rochester City Council has proposed to take nearly $900,000 more from the Rochester Police Department than the city budget first called for.

But that still is not enough for racial justice advocates who call for cutting police funding by 50%.

City Council announced the additional proposed reduction June 15 at an in-person news conference, the first time members had been together in several months because of COVID-19.

Council is scheduled to vote June 16 on Mayor Lovely Warren’s $529.6 spending plan. When Warren asked residents in an online survey to list their budget priorities, public safety was No. 1.

That was months ago – before George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sparked calls in Rochester and elsewhere to defund police and change how they do their jobs.

Those calls will invariably make public safety look different.

In a news conference prior to City Council’s announcement, members of the Black Lives Matter movement said policing is wrongly categorized as public safety.

“True public safety is achieved through living wages, preventive investments in education, housing, youth enrichment and public health,” Ashley Gantt read in a statement.

The advocates requested that council cut the police budget in half. During the news conference, City Council President Loretta Scott said the proposed cuts addressed administrative concerns.

Ashley Gantt, at podium, reads a statement calling for changes in policing in Rochester. From Gantt’s right, Stevie Vargas and Stanley Martin, and Iman Abid is at Gantt’s left. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Council said it is preparing amendments and requests to the budget that would move almost $130,000 from police overtime for special events to the Department of Recreation and Youth Services. The money is on top of what already has been cut because of cancellations from COVID-19.

An amendment also would cut the size of the incoming Rochester Police class by just over half to allow the city to divert $750,000 from the police budget to a contingency fund.

The 2020-21 budget for police already cut $3.6 million, or 3.7%, from the current year.

Additionally, council will ask the mayor to create a task force that would oversee use of that fund. The task force would have community participation and council representation. It would examines policing in Rochester and research best practices across the country to come up with a timeline to reshape policing.

The creation of some sort of task force could be expected, based on orders from the state to reform policing.

On June 12, Gov. Cuomo mandated that by April 1, 2021, police forces must adopt a plan to reinvent and modernize strategies and programs. Such a plan must be based on community input and failure to develop a plan could jeopardize state funding.

Council’s plan would call for that task force to inform a new agreement with the Locust Club, the police union, “helps reform and reimagine policing in a way that is beneficial to all of our residents.”

Council also is calling for a reexamination of the curriculum used in the police academy and the incorporation of more trainings for incoming officers that include implicit bias, structural racism, and trauma informed policing practices, among others.

After concluding their news conference, Gantt and advocates Stanley Martin, Iman Abid and Stevie Vargas attended council’s news conference and toward the end pressed councilmembers on why they were not more aggressively cutting money to the police department.

Councilmember Michael Patterson said he has received calls from people who are Black who say don’t cut police yet, have a conversation about what can be done differently. “Do we want to spend dollars in different ways? We absolutely do.”

Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot said the institutional racism was not confined to the police department and the city wanted to look at all policies and procedures through a lens of equity.

Here is the fact sheet presented by City Council “to address the path forward for the Police Accountability Board, policing in the community, and the 2020-21 proposed city budget.”

Police Accountability Board

  • The Council worked with the Rochester community for almost two years to create the PAB
  • The PAB was supported by 75% of the Rochester electorate last November
  • The legislation creating the PAB was challenged by Rochester Police Locust Club; in May the court invalidated the disciplinary aspect of the PAB legislation
  • Council will be filing an appeal this summer to ensure the disciplinary authority of the PAB
  • The Council submitted legislation this month to reappoint the members of the PAB
  • The Council has allocated funds in the 2020-21 Budget to support PAB appeal
  • The PAB was supported by 75% of the Rochester electorate last November
  • The legislation creating the PAB was challenged by Rochester Police Locust Club; in May the court invalidated the disciplinary aspect of the PAB legislation
  • Council will be filing an appeal this summer to ensure the disciplinary authority of the PAB
  • The Council submitted legislation this month to reappoint the members of the PAB
  • The Council has allocated funds in the 2020-21 Budget to support PAB appeal

Historical practices already implemented by RPD

  • The use of police-worn body cameras
  • Instituting NOBLE’s Community policing policies
  • Banning the use of chokeholds
  • Providing de-escalation training to officers
  • Requiring the use of verbalized warnings
  • Requiring officers to intervene if their colleagues act outside of policy
  • Placing the policies online and making them transparent for the public to review

Advocacy of the Council

  • Advocating for the Less Is More legislation that would reduce the amount of people in New York re-incarcerated for technical violations of parole, which disproportionately impacts black and brown communities
  • Advocating for the Say Their Name Reform Agenda, which was recently signed into law, to repeal 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, ban the use of chokeholds statewide, prohibit false race-based 911 calls, and assign the Attorney General as the independent prosecutor in any killing of unarmed civilians by the police
  • Signing on to the Black Agenda of Greater Rochester’s declaration that racism is a public health crisis

The proposed 2020-21 Budget as presented:

  • Creates a Chief Equity Officer within the City’s HR department to assess ways to make our City government more equitable. (The position was created in the middle of the current year and filled by Cephus Archie.)
  • Removes police from City Schools by eliminating the School Resource Officer (SRO) program
  • Fully funds a Police Accountability Board, and allocates funds to support the appeal
  • Decreases the Rochester Police Department Budget by $3.6M or 3.7%
  • The Council will make the following amendments and requests related to the 2020-21 Budget:
  • Reallocate funds from Police Overtime used for Special Events to the Department of Recreation and Youth Services, totaling almost $130,000, to impact 11 positions and allow for two Community Center Managers.
  • Reduce the size of the incoming Rochester Police Class by just over 50% to allow the City to divert $750,000 from the Police Budget to the Contingency Fund, use to be determined by a Task Force.
  • Ask the Administration to establish Task Force with community participation and Council representation that examines policing in Rochester. The Task Force should research best practices across the country that address the root causes of the problems we face, collect data, engage the community and generate actionable steps with timelines that discuss how we could re-imagine policing in our community.
  • A reexamination of the curriculum used in the police academy and the incorporation of more trainings for incoming officers that include implicit bias, structural racism, and trauma informed policing practices, among others.
  • Use the work of the Task Force to inform a new agreement with the Locust Club that helps reform and reimagine policing in a way that is beneficial to all of our residents.
  • Continue to support the Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) initiative and use this team as a vehicle to further dialogue around race and systems changes throughout all departments and city services.