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City Council Gets Proposal to Hire Law Firm to Review RPD Policies

Patti Singer

A line of protesters outside City Hall at about 9 a.m. Sept. 16. Police announced that protesters had to clear the street to allow access to City Hall. File photo

This story was updated Oct. 13.

A proposal to hire a law firm to look into the policies of the Rochester Police Department will go to a City Council committee.

Council voted 8-0 on Oct. 13 to send the proposal to hire Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP to the Public Safety, Youth and Recreation committee.

The committee’s role is to review legislation from the Police Department, Fire Department, Emergency Communications Department and Department of Recreation and Youth Services. The committee members are chairman Willie J. Lightfoot, Mitch Gruber, LaShay D. Harris and Jose Peo.

Council Vice President Lightfoot said that because the proposal did not come out of a committee, it needed to be assigned to one for further discussion. He said the proposal would not be voted on at the current meeting. No time was given for when it would come to a vote.

On Oct. 9, Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council President Loretta Scott introduced legislation to council to hire the firm known as WilmerHale to “conduct a deep-dive review” of the policies, procedures and training of the Rochester Police Department related to use of force, de-escalation, body-worn cameras and responding to mental health calls.

The city would pay a flat fee of $250,000, which would come from federal forfeiture funds. Taxpayers would not be funding the review.

The proposal comes as various entities investigate or call for investigations into the Rochester Police Department in the death of Daniel Prude and the actions of city officials in communicating what they knew of the death. Those include an investigation by the state Office of the Attorney General.

According to the legislation proposed by the mayor and council president, WilmerHale would work with a committee made up of two council representatives, two administration representatives, and one representative each from the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity, the Police Accountability Board and the United Christian Leadership Ministry.

The proposal met with resistance from the Police Accountability Board Alliance and Free the People Roc, who held a news conference Oct. 12 urging residents to contact their council member and have the person vote against the proposal.

The groups said the Police Accountability Board already has the ability to review police policies and procedures “and is ready to do this work,” according to a statement from the Police Accountability Board Alliance. However, the ability of the Police Accountability Board to discipline officers is the subject of a court appeal.

The groups also questioned the effectiveness of WilmerHale, saying the firm was hired by Baltimore but never completed an investigation.

The PABA had expressed frustration at the quick turnaround for the vote. It said that the alliance and the Police Accountability Board, “could help gather information and engage the community on behalf of the PAB in its work.”

The statement also said the $250,000 requested by the mayor could be used “to pay PAB members to do this important work.” However, the nine positions on the Police Accountability Board are non-compensated voluntary appointments. The executive director, who has yet to be named, will receive a salary.

Meanwhile, the firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, which is looking into communication about the death of Daniel Prude, issued more subpoenas in its investigation about what the timeline for when city officials learned of the Prude case and when they communicated that knowledge.

On Oct. 8, subpoenas went to Tim Curtin, Mary Lupien, Joseph Morabito, Stephanie Prince, Justin Roj, La’Ron Singletary, Steven Swetman, Lovely Warren, and Alex Yudelson

All likely would have been covered under subpoenas issued to the mayor’s office, the city’s law department, the Rochester Police Department and City Council. A spokeswoman for Emery Celli did not respond to an email requesting clarification about why subpoenas needed to be issued to specific individuals.

The firm is being paid up to $100,000. The investigation is independent and the only tie to council is two members who serve as liaisons but are not involved in the work.

In other news about the City Council investigation, the city announced that Carrie H. Cohen of Morrison & Foerster LLP has been appointed to represent the city.

According to a news release, Cohen has full and independent authority to represent the city without any interference. The fee was not included in the news release.