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PAB Meets for First Time; Discipline Powers Put on Hold by Judge

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

City Council member Mitch Gruber, left, Police Accountability Board interim chairperson Shani Wilson, and council staffer B.J. Scanlon at the inaugural PAB meeting, Jan. 28, 2020. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Hours before the Police Accountability Board met Jan. 28 for the first time, its ability to mete out discipline was put on hold.

State Supreme Court Justice John Ark issued a stipulated injunction that leaves discipline of police officers solely in the hands of the chief of police and/or his designees in accordance with civil service law and the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the Rochester Police Locust Club.

The injunction is in place for six months or upon completion of the litigation – including any appeals.

The ability to investigate complaints against police officers and to have disciplinary power seemed essential to the PAB, which is based on five pillars:

  • being independent of city government, separate from RPD;
  • independently investigate complaints of police misconduct;
  • having subpoena power to compel the production of evidence and witnesses;
  • having disciplinary power; and
  • review and evaluate RPD patterns, practices, policies and procedures to recommend systemic changes and to prevent misconduct.

City Council wrote legislation that was challenged by the police union but ultimately allowed to be on the ballot and was approved by 75% of voters.

During the injunction, the board can receive complaints and investigate. But it can’t get information from RPD that’s not publicly available. Any information it does get from the department would come after the department finished a discipline review.

City Council president Loretta Scott said the board would rather have a decision on the entire law, but the injunction does allow the board to get set up.

She said that even if the board lost disciplinary power, it would be more robust than the current Civilian Review Board by being able to review and recommend changes to policies, practices and procedures.

Ark wrote to the city and the union that he has that decision ready for what he called “final editing.” But he said he’s willing to meet with each side and work on parts of the PAB legislation to make it comply with state law. He said the process should expedite implementation of the legislation and minimize expense of litigation.

The police union sued, claiming the PAB legislation violates state law and the collective bargaining agreement.

In his letter to the parties, Ark wrote, “Hopefully, by working together, a ‘Rochester Police Accountability Board’ can be finalized that will not only serve the City of Rochester, but also be a model for other communities.”

He set a Feb. 7 deadline for the sides to contact his law clerk.

City Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin released a statement: “On behalf of Mayor Warren, though we appreciate Judge Ark’s offer to assist, in deference to the city voters who participated in the referendum process, we would prefer to have Judge Ark rule on Local Law #2, as adopted by City Council, and then reassess our options to the extent appropriate.”

Local Law No. 2 is the legislation establishing the PAB.

Scott, council vice president Willie Lightfoot and council member Mitch Gruber attended the PAB’s first meeting, along with council staffers including a legal advisor. The meeting began with the board calling an executive session, which is closed to the public, to discuss the litigation.

When the meeting reopened, Gruber offered advice on first steps such as starting working on bylaws and set up a meeting schedule. After the meeting, Scott said that council would not be leading the PAB but would provide limited support, particularly as the board developed its structure.

The nine PAB members voted Shani Wilson as interim chairperson and Dr. Celia McIntosh interim vice chairperson. The interim titles are until bylaws are developed and formally approved.

The board also formed subcommittees to work on a job description for the executive director and to formulate bylaws.

Its next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11 in Room 208A at City Hall.

The nine members of the board are:

  • Dr. Robert Harrisson III.
  • Ida Perez.
  • Rabbi Drorah Setel
  • Rev. Matthew Nickoloff
  • Jonathon Dollhopf
  • Miquel Powell
  • Shani Wilson
  • Dr. Celia McIntosh
  • Rev. Rickey Harvey

They can be reached via email by using their firstname.lastname@cityofrochester.gov