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City Council releases Police Advisory Board draft proposal; activists cite problems


[UPDATED] City Council is preparing to start public review of draft legislation changing the way Rochester handles complaints about police conduct. The draft legislation calls for the creation of a separate, independent Police Accountability Board with the power to conduct its own investigations into complaints.

The draft has been circulated among police-reform activists, the police union, and others, and this afternoon Council President Loretta Scott said that version will be submitted during Council's October cycle, which will begin a period of hearings and public comment.

Reform activists say the draft doesn’t go nearly far enough, and they plan to protest at tomorrow night's City Council meeting. But at a press conference this afternoon, Scott emphasized that the document is a draft. "It's not the end," she said, "it's the beginning." In a press release issued later this afternoon, she said she expects there will be "numerous amendments" as a result of community feedback. Scott's full statement, excerpted from the press release, is available at the end of the article.

At a press conference today, Pastor Wanda Wilson and other members of the Police Accountability Board Alliance said draft police-oversight legislation doesn't go far enough. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • At a press conference today, Pastor Wanda Wilson and other members of the Police Accountability Board Alliance said draft police-oversight legislation doesn't go far enough.

Revisions to the city’s police oversight process have been underway for months, the result of continuous prodding by local activists. Scott had hoped to have legislation ready for a Council vote last spring. However, state law and union contracts that protect police officers’ rights and privacy have complicated revisions to the current oversight process. In addition, the proposed accountability board would need staffing, and Scott says funding still has to be identified.

Currently, the Rochester Police Department’s Professional Standards Section conducts all investigations into citizen complaints and determines whether the complaint is valid. A separate Civilian Review Board reviews the results of those investigations, but it can’t conduct its own investigation. It can disagree with the PSS findings, but the police chief makes the final determination, and the chief decides what disciplinary measures to take, if any.

The new draft legislation abolishes the Civilian Review Board and replaces it with a Police Accountability Board, an autonomous office of city government separate from the RPD. The board would report to City Council.

The Accountability Board would have nine members, two appointed by the mayor, four appointed by City Council (one from each Council district), and three nominated by an alliance of community organization representatives and confirmed by Council. Accountability Board members would be city residents and would reflect the diversity of the city population.

The board would have a paid executive director, someone who had never been employed by any law-enforcement agency.

The board would have the power to investigate complaints about police conduct, issue subpoenas, and recommend discipline. It would establish a “disciplinary matrix,” outlining disciplinary actions to be applied in cases of misconduct. It would also have the power to review RPD “policies, procedures, patterns, practices, and training” and recommend changes.

But final decisions about discipline would still be made by the police chief, and the Accountability Board’s investigation would not take place until after the RPD’s Professional Standards Section had conducted its own.

While some of the draft legislation is consistent with what reform activists have called for, there are some key differences. A statement last night from a coalition of reform activists, the Police Accountability Board Alliance, said that the draft legislation “fails to establish the five essential pillars of accountability” the group has been pushing for.

Among their objections: that under the draft legislation, police officers conduct the initial investigation into complaints, the police chief determines discipline, community and reformer-alliance representation on the board isn’t adequate, former police officers could be appointed to the board, and proposed funding isn’t sufficient.

In an interview this afternoon, longtime civil rights activist Lewis Stewart said he's concerned that in the draft legislation the police chief retains the authority to make decisions about discipline. But, he said, he doesn't think City Council will approve removing that power from the chief.

"My biggest problem," he said, "is that the new board can’t do its investigation until PSS completes its investigation." Many people don't trust the police and won't want to be interviewed by them, Stewart said, which could mean fewer investigations are made. "We’ve always felt that there should be parallel investigations going on simultaneously," he said.

And, Stewart said, the $300,000 proposed budget isn't large enough. "It’s going to ensure the failure of the investigative body," he said.

In her press release this afternoon, Council President Scott said Council will hold "multiple forums" on the proposed legislation. "The entire community needs to be involved in the creation of a Police Accountability Board," she said, "and having a piece of legislation to review is a starting point for discussion."

Draft legislation creating a police accountability board Draft rules and procedures for the proposed police accountability board City Council President Loretta Scott's remarks