The fight over Police Accountability Board disciplinary power isn’t over

Jun 16, 2021

Rochester's skyline from Court Street
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

As part of the city of Rochester’s 2021-22 budget, which was approved in a close vote on Tuesday, $5 million will be used to fund the city’s Police Accountability Board. That’s nearly 10 times its current budget. 

The board has been in the midst of a legal battle since its inception, by voter referendum in November 2019. The fight is focused mainly on one of the board’s core responsibilities: determining punishments for police officers accused of misconduct. Two courts have ruled that that part of the law is illegal and punishments should be determined by a process agreed during union contract negotiations. 

So where does this leave the board? Its leader, Executive Director Conor Dwyer Reynolds said they plan to build out the board’s staff to roughly 50 who will help the board investigate police misconduct claims, and analyze police policies and procedures. He’s also not giving up on gaining disciplinary power. 

“This was never going to be the last word on our disciplinary powers,” said Dwyer Reynolds.

“There are going to be next steps toward getting those powers back. I’m confident we will get those powers back. It’s just figuring out what those next steps are.”

He’s alluding to a statement released by City Council President Loretta Scott Tuesday. Scott said the council will continue to back the board and is willing to fight for the power to discipline police officers. She also said she plans to appeal the ruling.

Whether another court will hear the appeal is an open question and much of city hall will be shaken up after next week’s Democratic primaries. Scott is retiring at year’s end, Councilmember Malik Evans is challenging two-term incumbent Mayor Lovely Warren in a tight mayoral race and three more council seats are up for grabs. 

Despite a different makeup of Rochester’s leadership, Dwyer Reynolds is confident the group will maintain its funding. He said the board’s supporters have backed them at every turn.

“Part of what I think we’ve seen over the last few years is the community consistently standing up and I think when the community speaks, government listens,” Dwyer Reynolds said.