Having city residents interview potential police officers means shared accountability for the success – or struggles – of the Rochester Police Department, according to the man instrumental in getting citizen involvement.
“If you are in the process of recommending certain police officers, either for hiring or not being hired, then you are being held accountable really for who serves on the police force in your particular community,” said the Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of the United Christian Leadership Ministry.
Stewart, who has advocated for years for more citizens to have greater input into RPD, and Mayor Lovely Warren signed an agreement to establish a nine- to 12-member volunteer Civilian Public Safety Interview Panel.
“It empowers people and it gives them ownership,” Stewart said after the news conference and signing ceremony Nov. 18 in the atrium at City Hall.
He said residents are reacting to the recent gun violence and the controversy over incidents surrounding police before and after the death of Daniel Prude.
“People are willing now to say, ‘Hey, bad policing impacts us, gun violence impacts us. It’s time for us to wake up, to be a voice, to be heard and to hold ourselves accountable to really improving our community and improving our police force.’ And I think that’s going to happen.”
The Civilian Public Safety Interview Panel is part of the city’s response to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s police reform Executive Order 203.
Warren said Mayor-elect Malik Evans did not have to weigh in on the plan.
“I am still the mayor of Rochester,” Warren said. “We have one mayor at a time. … This was supported and passed by City Council,” she said of the city’s plan for police reform.
Evans will give up his seat on council when he becomes mayor.
Warren is stepping down Dec. 1 after a plea deal related to campaign finance violations. Deputy Mayor James Smith will fill in until Evans becomes mayor on Jan. 1.
The chief of police will have final say over who is hired, making the panel an advisory body. Warren said it would seem unlikely that a chief would hire a candidate that a citizen panel did not recommend.
Evans will be naming a chief, although he has not set a deadline.
However, implementation of the panel is a few months away.
The city will post on its website for at least three weeks that is seeking residents.
Potential panelists must complete an application and:
- live in the city;
- have a high school diploma or equivalent;
- be at least 21 at the time of application;
- not have a conviction for a felony or a sex crime;
- be involved in their community or neighborhood;
- commit to serve at least three years on the panel;
- commit to attend training provided by the city and attend modified citizens police academy if selected to the panel; and
- be available at least one weekday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during each hiring cycle interview period if selected.
Panelists will be selected by a three-member committee consisting of Stewart or a UCLM representative, a representative of the Rochester Police Department and a member of the city’s human resources department.
Stewart said every applicant who meets the criteria will be interviewed.
Once panelists are selected and complete their training, they will be able to interview potential police candidates. Prior to an interview, panelists will meet with UCLM and city representatives to develop questions related to the potential officer’s attitudes on contemporary policing, life experiences, familiarity and involvement with the Rochester community and implicit biases. The city’s human resources department will review questions to make sure they are legal. Panelists can ask only questions that have been approved.
Stewart is continuing to work on police reform and has a proposal for a pilot safety corps program in the northeast quadrant to hire and train people in mediation and conflict resolution to supplement police response.
But he said he viewed the Civilian Public Safety Interview Panel and the safety corps initiative as legacy projects.
“If we can get this implemented and get the Rochester community safety corps implemented and get that on a good footing, I would say that we would have done a whole lot to improve our community and it would make it worthwhile,” he said.