During their first opportunity to weigh in on City Council’s proposed Police Accountability Board, residents on Wednesday night had both criticism and praise.
The controversial board would have independent oversight of misconduct claims against the Rochester Police Department. For decades, activists have been pushing for an independent civilian board with broad authority, but city officials have never been willing to go this far.
One of the most frequent concerns voiced by the roughly 30 attendees was the role of the city’s corporation counsel. Under the bill, the corporation counsel would function as the lawyer for the board along with its work for the city. Some residents thought that could lead to conflicts of interest.
Other concerns came from Mary Lupien, a City Council candidate and a member of the Police Accountability Board Alliance, a community group that has advocated for years to create an independent board. She praised most of the proposed legislation but is worried about the composition of the board.
“The majority of the board has been given to City Hall instead of the Police Accountability Board.” Lupien said.
The Council proposal calls for a nine-member board. It would include one person appointed by the mayor, four appointed by City Council and four chosen from a pool of recommendations from the Police Accountability Board Alliance.
Lupien said she preferred an 11-member board, with the majority not named by the mayor or Council.
Mike Mazzeo, the president of the Locust Club police union, also expressed concerns about the board makeup. The draft legislation excludes anyone affiliated with law enforcement. He said he believes that law enforcement needs to be involved in order to help understand police matters.
Mazzeo called this element of the legislation “extreme” and said it needed to be “straightened out.”
“I’m not sure that you’re going to get buy-in to some type of program or legislation that makes statements like, ‘If your father and father’s grandfather was in law enforcement, that you can’t be a part of a board.”
Mazzeo was also concerned that the union was not consulted as the bill was written. He said the Council members he has spoken to couldn’t explain why they did not discuss it with them. Mazzeo said he’s open to the idea of an accountability board and that he’s researched attempts from across the country, but he warned that “good attempts” failed because of “economic reasons.”
Under the Council’s bill, the board would cost about $400,000 in its first year.
City resident Phyllis Harmon strongly disagreed with Mazzeo. She said she was a victim of police brutality in the summer of 2013, and sued the Rochester Police Department afterward.
“They need to get the police out of it,” Harmon said. “If they’re the ones who victimized you, you don’t let their boss cover it up.”
Council President Loretta Scott said hearing the community’s point of view could lead to changing the draft legislation.
“We’ll listen to them and they may just point out something that we completely overlooked or should really be included,” Scott said “In that case, we’ll amend what we’ve prepared.”
This is the third proposal for a new accountability board since summer. The Police Accountability Board and Mayor Lovely Warren offered alternatives last year.
Two more community input sessions are scheduled for next week. The first is on Monday at the Danforth R-Center at 200 West Ave. The final session is Thursday, Jan. 31, in the City Hall atrium, 30 Church St. All sessions are from 5:30 to 7 p.m.