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City to Build Database for Public to Search Complaints Against RPD Officers

Patti Singer

The city will create an online database of police department disciplinary records in response to a repeal of a state law that had shielded that information from the public.

The city made the announcement July 7. Spokesman Justin Roj wrote in a news release that the database is expected to be running by the end of this year.

In addition to creating a way for users to get to the database, all disciplinary records for the police department must be digitized and indexed for inclusion in the database.

“There is a large effort underway to digitize and index disciplinary records for inclusion in the database,” said Roj. “However, this upfront effort will pay dividends once all of the files are available to the public online.”

Roj said the city needed to determine whether it could digitize the records or whether it needed an outside vendor. He said the database was a work in progress

On June 12, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed “Say Their Name” legislation, a package of law enforcement reforms that included repeal of Section 50a of the state Civil Service Law. Under that law, records of discipline reminded private. The law also covered firefighters.

Repeal allowed the public to file Freedom of Information Law requests for disciplinary records.

However, agencies frequently respond that they are delaying the request as they seek the relevant information. It can take months to receive the information requested. Roj said the database would make access more expedient.

Roj said the city began working on a way to make the records public when it started to receive FOIL requests right after the repeal went into effect. One request was for all disciplinary records for the RPD. Under FOIL, government agencies (not just police) have five business days to acknowledge a FOIL request and 20 business days to provide the records it has. Agencies do not have to create records in response to a request.

Roj said the database would have information about internal and external complaints against an officer, the result of investigation into the allegations and any discipline imposed. He said that of the more than 700 officers in the RPD, about 100 have had complaints made against them.

City Councilmember Mary Lupien on July 6 shared a press release with council that she and Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart planned to send out on July 7.

The news release called for RPD and the Monroe County Sheriff to post records online. “Posting disciplinary records online makes them accessible to the public. This proactive step would go a long way in holding law enforcement accountable and building trust with the community,” said Lupien.

After the city’s announcement, she said, “We are pleased to see in a matter of hours, the city heard our call and took this step.”

Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, said that repeal of 50a is overdue. He said he’s concerned about the process for releasing the information, making sure the information is accurate and complete and that information about other officers is not mistakenly included. He’s also concerned about how it could be used by the public.

“Would you want your all your personnel file so your next door neighbor can look at them, or post them on social media for whatever reason,” he said. “How does someone get a fair, due process?”

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said it is receiving FOIL requests for hundreds of files. A spokeswoman said in a news release that the MCSO is “in the process of building the most efficient business model, to include technologies, that will allow our agency to comply with the law in the most efficient and effective manner possible. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work to respond to the FOIL requests in a timely fashion, while creating a new mechanism to relay information to the public.”

The MCSO release did not use the term database.

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