Warren’s budget would boost PAB funding, cut police spending
Mayor Lovely Warren’s proposed 2021-22 budget would reduce funding for the Rochester Police Department, expand the city’s crisis intervention services, and provide the Police Accountability Board with the full $5 million it requested.
The $560.8 million budget, which Warren presented to members of the media Friday in City Council chambers, is 5.2% larger than last year’s plan. Despite the increase, the average homeowner is expected to see a $36 reduction in their property taxes, according to the budget. The coronavirus pandemic put cities across the country, including Rochester, under serious fiscal strain, but Warren called her proposal and the new funding it contains “historic.”
“City government works when you have leadership that makes the tough decisions, and can work in partnership with the community to face any challenge that may arise,” said Warren, who is running for reelection this year. “Today, while COVID is not over, we stand at a pivotal moment in our community. We can look forward to the future clear-eyed and determined.”
A funding boost for the Police Accountability Board
The Police Accountability Board would be given a $5 million budget and full autonomy to hire staff and begin investigating allegations of officer misconduct under Warren’s budget proposal.
“This historic investment will more than triple the PAB’s budget and allow this agency to begin its very important work,” said Warren.
The allocation, which the Police Accountability Board had requested, appeared to catch its staff and members by surprise. In a tweet, board Executive Director Conor Dwyer Reynolds said, simply, “Wow.” Later in the day, board officials released a statement on Warren's budget proposal.
“This investment would be a massive step toward transforming the PAB into the change agent our community needs,” said Chair Shani Wilson. “Today’s shooting on Glasser Street underscores the importance of having a PAB that can conduct fair investigations and create systemic change. More than ever, the PAB is committed to doing the work.”
Friday morning, Rochester police officers responded to the area of 500 Lyell Avenue for a report of shots fired. When they arrived they stopped what they believed to be the suspect's vehicle on the 20 block of Glasser Street.
During the stop, police say one of the people inside the car refused to leave the vehicle and after a short period of time, they saw a handgun in the suspect’s possession. An officer fired into the vehicle, striking the individual, who was pronounced dead at the scene by ambulance personnel.
It’s unclear whether the majority of Council members will go along with the Police Accountability Board allocation as-is.
Reynolds, in a phone interview, said he is "thrilled" with the budget's plan to fund the Board. He is confident City Council will ultimately side with supporting the plan.
"I think now that the mayor and city's budget people have said this is the right way to go, I suspect Council will go the same way," Reynolds said. "I'm not super worried about that, but we are, of course, going to continue to educate councilmembers on the PAB."
The Police Accountability Board made its ambitious $5 million request in an 85-page document that laid out how the agency would use the funds. It plans to hire 55 staffers for three new bureaus within the agency, focused respectively on officer accountability, systemic change, and administration. Additionally, $850,600 would be used for equipment and other expenses.
With that level of funding, Police Accountability Board officials have said that they expect the average investigation to take 60 to 90 days. Under the new budget, the city projects an average 90 day wait time.
But while Warren said her budget plan will allow the Police Accountability Board to start investigating officer misconduct, there’s a catch. The board is still blocked from investigating individual officers due to a court ruling, which City Council is appealing.
The budget proposal states that the Police Accountability Board plans to hire its full staff, develop a “disciplinary matrix” for the Rochester Police Department, and by the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, begin accepting claims.
Less money for the Rochester Police Department
The budget proposes a 4.7 % funding cut for the Rochester Police
Department, which would drop its budget down to $90.8 million. The cuts were achieved by slicing money from several department programs and reserve funds.
For example, $2.1 million of the department’s budget decrease will come from trimming down its “vacancy allowance” — in other words by pulling funding for positions that are currently vacant. Another $1.5 million was taken out of the department’s budget by moving animal services — animal control and the Verona Street Shelter — into the Department of Recreation and Human Services.
In total, the department’s operations costs accounted for the entirety of the funding decrease, showing a drop of $5.2 million. The offices of the chief, administration, and community affairs all saw increases. No sworn officers will be cut as part of the budget.
“We are refocusing the role of RPD while expanding the role of the Department of Recreation and Human Services in assisting residents in need,” Warren said. “These investments are intentional, and take a holistic approach in addressing the well-being and safety of our community.”
In addition, the budget calls for studying the creation of a Commissioner of Public Safety. That position, which would be held by a civilian, would preside over the Rochester Police Department, the Rochester Fire Department, and the city’s emergency communications. It’s not a new concept—Rochester formerly had a Department of Public Safety up until 1970 which saw over all of those departments.
While the budget doesn’t establish a commissioner outright, it does set aside $50,000 to “develop a strategy” for the position’s creation.
Crisis Teams to expand
The budget calls for further investment into the newly-created Crisis Intervention Services Unit, housed at the Department of Recreation and Human Services.
The Crisis Intervention Services Unit was created in September following the release of body camera footage of Daniel Prude’s fatal encounter with the Rochester Police Department. The unit serves as an umbrella for all of the city’s programs that provide emergency responders other than police. The Family Crisis Intervention Team (FACIT) had previously been shifted out of the police department, of which it had been a division, and moved into the Crisis Intervention Services Unit
The new Person in Crisis Team, which was officially launched in February, has received much public attention, and the city has received some criticism for not using it for a few high-profile incidents.
The PIC Team is made up of social workers who respond in tandem with the department, and it takes over calls that are more suited toward mental health professionals than a police. The team currently has 14 social workers on staff, and typically one team of two social workers is on duty at any given time.
Warren’s budget would expand the PIC Team to 40 staff members. In total, the city’s crisis intervention services would see a 33% increase in funding.
“The expansion of the PIC Team is just part of our efforts,” Warren said. “We will also expand our Victims Assistance Unit to help those who have suffered from crime recover and rebuild their lives.”
RASE Commission million
In March, the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE Commission) released its final report, detailing a wide range of policy proposals to address racial inequity in the Rochester region.
The report, dubbed “No Time for Excuses: It's Time for Action,” called for a $15 minimum wage; access to mental health and emotional support services for Black people, indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC); expanded crisis intervention services; housing access; financial wellness; and many other reforms.
Warren is proposing $1 million in her budget to help implement the RASE Commission’s recommendations. It is unclear which specific actions that funding would support.
“It’s no time for excuses, it’s time for action,” Warren said. “These dollars will be used to start the implementation of the RASE Commission’s recommendations. It will ensure the city will start to deliver on those recommendations.”
Warren’s budget proposal still needs to make it through a vote by the Rochester City Council before adoption. City Council will hold budget hearings on June 2, 8, and 10. The final budget vote is slated for June 15.