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Police Accountability Board hires D&C reporter Will Cleveland


The Rochester Police Accountability Board has hired Will Cleveland, a reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle, as its deputy chief of accountability inspection.

Cleveland was one of several new hires announced Monday by the board that included a second local media personality. Vanessa Cheeks, a producer with WROC and freelance reporter, was hired as the board’s deputy chief of public information. Her last day on the job is Feb. 11.

Among the other hires were Duwaine Bascoe and Chenoa Maye, who will share the title of deputy chief of investigations, and Melody Harkness, who will be the deputy chief of case management. Last year, Harkness became the program manager for the Albany Community Police Review Board, which is that city’s version of the Police Accountability Board.

None of the hires have the local name recognition of Cleveland, who has been a fixture in Rochester media for the better part of 10 years. He is perhaps best known for his columns on the region’s beer scene, but made a name for himself in recent years as an investigative reporter who focused on policing and public safety.

Two months ago, he was named president of the Rochester News Guild, the union which represents employees of Gannett, the parent company of the Democrat and Chronicle. Cleveland said in a Facebook post announcing his move that he has been with the company for 14 years.

In a phone interview, Cleveland, 37, said the deadline-driven demands and instability of the news business, coupled with he and his wife having their first child, meant it was time for a change.

“It’s really a remarkable opportunity that hopefully lets me continue a lot of the work I’ve been doing for the last few years at the D&C,” Cleveland said, referring to his investigative work on policing.

In a phone interview following the announcement, Police Accountability Board Executive Director Conor Dwyer Reynolds said he was excited by the potential Cleveland brings to the board.

“Will’s going to have his old job, but he’s going to have subpoena power and access to records,” Reynolds said. “. . . These hires show that PAB is going to have the expertise and the knowledge necessary to actually get the job done.”

Cleveland said he will continue writing his beer column for the Democrat and Chronicle on a freelance basis. His last day on the job is Feb. 25, although he said he will not report on the Rochester Police Department in the interim due to a potential conflict of interest.

The board’s residency requirements demand that Cleveland, who lives in the Summerville neighborhood of Irondequoit, will have to move to the city within a year of his start date.

The city budget allotted the Police Accountability Board $5 million to fully staff the body this year. While the extent of the board’s disciplinary powers is still being litigated, the board has the power to subpoena documents, interview officers, and make recommendations to the Police Department.

“We’ve been so focused since the beginning on hiring local, highly-qualified people that really care about our community,” Reynolds said. “. . . It’s a thrill to have these people coming on board.”

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].