The Rochester Police Accountability Board is asking the city for $5 million so it can hire dozens of workers to staff three new bureaus that would operate under its purview.
The ambitious request is part of the board’s proposed 2021-22 budget, which it submitted to the city Wednesday and which will require City Council’s approval. In the 85-page document, the board laid out a case for exactly how the funding would be spent, and why it’s crucial to the effectiveness of the board.
“We have to be really clear about the link between how many staff we need for what we need to do,” said Conor Dwyer Reynolds, the board's executive director. “We had to go and do all of this research on things like, say, the size of the police force.”
If the budget were to be approved as is, the Police Accountability Board’s budget would be 13 times larger than its current year’s budget of $396,200. In the proposal, the board argues that its $5 million funding request equals out to about $1 for every $20 spent on the Rochester Police Department.
"Given the millions the city is spending on policing-related legal fees, settlements, and protests each year, this investment is certain to not only keep our citizens safe, but save our city money in the long term," said board Chair Shani Wilson.
Reynolds is currently the board's only paid staffer. Under the budget proposal, the board would hire 55 staffers for the newly created Bureau of Officer Accountability, Bureau of Systemic Change, and Bureau of Administration. The proposal would also allocate $850,600 for equipment and other expenses.
The board’s budget proposal has three primary goals: hold individual officers accountable, foster systemic change in the department, and engage with the community to better understand its needs. Under the proposal, the board set a goal of closing investigations into officer misconduct in under 90 days.
The board currently does not have the authority to investigate or discipline individual officers. The Locust Club sued the city over the board, and in a ruling on the case, State Supreme Court Justice John Ark struck down the board’s disciplinary powers. Andrew Celli, an attorney hired by City Council, has appealed that decision, though the court has not issued a decision.
The board built its proposal under the assumption that its disciplinary powers will ultimately be reinstated. But its members argued that even without disciplinary powers, the board could be a powerful tool for change.
“Despite temporarily lacking disciplinary powers, the agency retains investigatory abilities, oversight capacities, and other tools that can provide real accountability and spark systemic, community-led change,” the proposal reads.
The Bureau of Officer Accountability would receive $2.3 million of the $5 million budget, the largest of any of the three bureaus. It would fund 31 staff members: Four would take in misconduct complaints, 24 would investigate allegations against officers, and three would adjudicate allegations.
The board estimated that it could see roughly 400 complaints per year, based on rates in cities such as Chicago and San Francisco. While it noted many of those cases may be dismissed outright, the proposal argued that the potential volume of complaints would have a direct impact on how quickly the board could complete investigations.
At under $5 million in funding, the board estimates investigations could take 90 days to upward of two years to complete. At a base of $5 million, the average investigation is expected to take 60 to 90 days, and at over $7.5 million, 45-60 days.
“While requesting a significant increase in funding for PAB, this proposal relies on a range of conservative estimates about complaint rates and other figures,” the proposal reads. “There is a chance this proposal overestimates the necessary resources. But there is an equal, if not substantially greater, chance that this proposal underestimates those resources.”
The board did receive a funding boost from the state this year. State Sen. Samra Brouk had called for the state to direct $1 million to the board, and the budget approved by legislators provides it with $500,000.
Brouk had said that several police incidents over the past year evidenced the need for the board. She specifically mentioned the March 2020 death of Daniel Prude at the hands of Rochester police officers as well as the death of Tyshon Jones, who was fatally shot by a Rochester police officer outside of the Open Door Mission. Both men were in the midst of mental crises. She also cited a February incident where a Rochester police officer pepper sprayed a 9-year-old girl.
“Input from community members and oversight of law enforcement creates safer and better communities,” Brouk said in a statement. “... Dedicated funding for the Police Accountability Board is an important first step in breaking this vicious cycle.”
The board’s proposal is subject to the scrutiny of City Council, which ultimately has to decide whether to approve it. The proposal noted that while the board believes its funding request is sufficient, there is room for questioning its suggestions.
“We need to build the Rochester Police Accountability Board into a national model,” Wilson said. “With the right resources, we can make it happen.”