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Mayor Warren and Community Group Hashing Out Differences with Police Accountability Legislation

Pastor Wanda Wilson, Executive Committee Member of the Rochester Police Accountability Board Alliance

By staff –

A Rochester police accountability community group is calling on Mayor Lovely Warren to reconsider her proposed legislation for oversight of the Rochester Police Department (RPD) but Warren says her plan is the “legally permissible” proposal.

Under Warren’s proposal presented to City Council last week, the new nine-member Police Accountability Board (PAB) would have powers to investigate complaints including issuing subpoenas as well as work toward better policies but would not have the ability to enforce any disciplinary actions.

“The PAB would have unprecedented powers to investigate complaints as well as work toward better policies related to the use of force,” Warren said. “This will improve public safety by improving the public’s trust, creating a fully transparent investigative process that’s fair to both the community and our officers.”

But the Rochester Police Accountability Board Alliance (PABA) says the mayor’s proposal is flawed because its powers are only advisory.

“The Police Accountability Board Alliance strongly opposes the Mayor’s police accountability proposal. The Mayor’s proposal is unacceptable and undermines the work done by City Council and the Police Accountability Board Alliance to draft an ordinance that includes all five pillars necessary to effectively ensure true accountability,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.

The five pillars previously outlined by the group in meeting with City Council and community members include:
1. An independent agency of city government, separate from RPD
2. The power to independently investigate complaints of police misconduct
3. Subpoena power to compel the production of evidence and witnesses
4. Disciplinary power, using a disciplinary matrix
5. The power to review and evaluate RPD patterns, practices, policies and procedures to recommend systemic changes and to prevent misconduct from happening in the first place.

The PABA says the Mayor’s proposal differs significantly from the five pillars insofar as it:
* Lacks disciplinary power; is advisory only
* Solely focuses on allegations of excessive use of force
* Dramatically curtails the PAB’s investigative power; Rochester Police Department’s Professional Standards Section (PSS) must finish its investigation first and then the board may only “investigate matters not addressed” by PSS
* Severely limits the PAB’s power to review RPD policies and procedures to matters of excessive use of force
* Fails to give majority representation on the board to the community
* Former law enforcement officers can be appointed three years after their service ends
* All nominations to the board must be approved by the Mayor before they can be confirmed by City Council
* Significantly under-funds the PAB and does not include any investigative staff
* Prioritizes the labor contract between the City and the Police at the expense of the community
* Undercuts the democratic process by ignoring the work and the demands of the community, the Alliance, and Rochester City Council

Warren says her proposal will create a Police Accountability Board that is legally permissible under the laws of the State of New York.

“Other proposals that have been suggested would not withstand legal challenge,” she said. “As proposed by the Administration, the Police Accountability Board would have unprecedented authority – including subpoena power to compel testimony and the production of evidence – to investigate complaints as well as work toward better policies related to the use of force.”

PABA Executive Committee Member Pastor Wanda Wilson says the mayor’s claim is misleading.

“We’ve understood all along that our proposal would require a change to the city’s charter or a referendum that would give the PAB the authority to implement discipline,” she said.

Wilson says her group already had multiple discussions with city council on the matter.

“Article 75 of the New York State Civil Service Law grants a governing board such as the Police Accountability Board the authority to administer discipline.”

Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott said the legislation that will ultimately pass will be one that works for the entire community.

“The Council has worked diligently for several months with the members of the Police Accountability Board Alliance in an effort to draft legislation that will create a PAB that is transparent, accountable and credible,” Scott said in a statement. “The Council is finalizing the remaining details of the draft legislation and plan to submit it for consideration in January. Once submitted, the Council will also hold multiple public forums to garner feedback from the entire community on this important topic.”

“I want the legislation that is ultimately passed to create a PAB for our City that achieves what our residents deserve—a PAB that works for our entire community, residents and officers alike.”

City Council plans to take up the matter at Thursday’s public safety committee meeting.