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Tuesday 29 September 2020
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Police Accountability Board Stakes its Claim As Voice in Police Review

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Police Accountability Board members from left, Rev. Matthew Nickoloff, vice chairwoman Dr. Celia McIntosh, Danielle Tucker and chairwoman Shani Wilson at Sept. 15, 2020 news conference. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The Police Accountability Board is looking to make an offer by the end of October to one of the 10 candidates being considered for the position of executive director.

PAB chairwoman Shani Wilson said more than 150 people have applied. She declined to say whether how many of the finalists were local.

The search for an executive director was one update during a news conference Sept. 15 at Ibero American Action League.

Wilson said the PAB wanted to address what she called public misperceptions over its status. In light of the death of Daniel Prude and the work being done to identify and remedy structural racism, she also said the board wanted to “more effectively and proactively” be used in the oversight of cases involving death in police custody and as part of the recently established Commission on Race and Structural Equity. 

Wilson and board colleagues addressed several issues, but she opened by reading a letter from the board to City Council, Mayor Lovely Warren, County Executive Adam Bello, the RASE commission and Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary. The letter asserted the PAB’s place in current discussions about police reform. The letter went out before Singletary was dismissed by Warren on Sept. 14, and it was signed by seven of the current eight members of the PAB. There is one vacant seat.

“The death of Daniel Prude has amplified the urgency of the discussion of our community’s police accountability,” it began and went on to cite the work of RASE and a call by the mayor for an independent investigation.

“While we welcome this intention to address issues of police accountability, we are concerned that nowhere in this discussion has mention been made of the existing organization whose sole purpose is to do exactly those things for the City of Rochester: the Police Accountability Board. We are at a loss to understand why the PAB has been excluded from your deliberations. …”

The board wrote that it is mandated to review RPD policies and was overwhelmingly supported by voters. “Our authority comes not through fiat, but through the people,” they wrote.

The board said it was the city’s legally appointed civilian oversight and policy-review body, and as such was making several recommendations. Those included: affirmation from the mayor, police chief, and City Council of the PAB’s role as a legislatively mandated body in matters pertaining to police accountability; PAB presence on any advisory board on police oversight; participation in reviews and changes to RPD policies: timely notification of any in-custody death; immediate disclosure of RPD strategies about public protests, mental hygiene arrests and budget reform.

“We believe the city and its people are safer when accountability is a normalized practice in the course of decision making,” the letter stated. “ … Each member of the PAB is fully committed to impartiality in the hearing of individual cases but we will not remain impartial when it comes to the necessity for civilian oversight of police conduct.”

Wilson and McIntosh were joined by PAB members Ida Perez, Rev. Matthew Nickoloff, Rabbi Drorah Setel and Danielle Tucker.

Other topics included:

  • Potential role for PAB in interviews for a new RPD chief: Celia McIntosh, the vice chairwoman, said the PAB would like to be part of the process.
  • Appeal over discipline powers. State Supreme Court Justice John Ark had ruled that the PAB could not discipline officers, and that decision is under appeal. Wilson said it could be in court in the coming weeks. Ark’s ruling left intact other functions that Wilson said the board has been carrying out. She said the PAB wrote bylaws as though it has discipline power and will revisit the bylaws if necessary.
  • Mental hygiene arrests. Wilson said there has to be a countywide change to address lack of access to mental health services. McIntosh, a doctorate level nurse practitioner, said there need to be more providers who are culturally responsive and also come from the Black and brown communities. “There’s a narrative that many African American providers are not equipped to take care of African American patients. We are equipped. We are educated. … We have the lived experience that many Black and brown Americans go through in this community.”
  • Filling the ninth seat. The Police Accountability Board Alliance is responsible for nominating people to the seat, and Wilson said there have been discussions about choosing an individual who represents groups not already on the board.