Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has presented legislation to City Council that would establish a new Police Accountability Board.
Warren says that board would have full investigative powers, for the first time in the city’s history.
“The PAB would have unprecedented powers to investigate complaints as well as work toward better policies related to the use of force,” Warren said. “This will improve public safety by improving the public’s trust, creating a fully transparent investigative process that’s fair to both the community and our officers.”
The proposed nine-member PAB would have subpoena power to compel testimony and the production of evidence. Three of the members would be recommended to the Mayor by the community’s Police Accountability Board Alliance, three would be recommended by the City Council and three appointed directly by the Mayor. Except for the first set of appointments, members would serve staggered three-year terms.
The initial board would convene a search committee for an executive director, chosen by the PAB and subject to confirmation by City Council.
The PAB would be able to recommend charges and/or discipline to the Chief, who would take no action on a complaint until receiving the board’s findings and recommendations. Any recommendations regarding discipline would be based on a “disciplinary matrix” created by the PAB.
If the chief disagrees with the PAB’s recommendations, the chief would be required to explain his reasoning in writing to the PAB.
Reverend Lewis Stewart, a local civil rights advocate, who is president of United Christian Leadership Ministry, is glad the mayor is calling for a more transparent process. But he tells WXXI News that one thing that bothers him is that Warren’s proposal doesn’t seem to allow the new accountability board to actually determine disciplinary action in cases where an officer is found to have used excessive force. City officials say that state law gives disciplinary authority only to the police chief.
“We ourselves have been advocating very strongly that the authority for disciplinary power be in the hands of the PAB board itself." Stewart says he would also like to see the community be able to appoint more members to this new board than either the mayor or city council.
But Stewart says he is willing to continue the discussion, and hopes advocates and City Hall can negotiate over the final plan.
Warren says she did get get input from the different constituencies involved, including the City Council, members of the police union, the police chief and members of the community.
"And what we tried to do is strike a fair balance what each of those interested parties had to say and bring forth a system that is just for everyone," Warren said.
The projected cost in the first year, including one-time startup costs, is estimated between $260,000 and $300,000.
Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott released this statement:
“Today the Mayor submitted legislation to the City Council to create a Police Accountability Board (PAB). I look forward to reviewing the Mayor’s legislation at length.
The Council has worked diligently for several months with the members of the Police Accountability Board Alliance in an effort to draft legislation that will create a PAB that is transparent, accountable and credible. The Council is finalizing the remaining details of the draft legislation and plan to submit it for consideration in January. Once submitted, the Council will also hold multiple public forums to garner feedback from the entire community on this important topic.
I want the legislation that is ultimately passed to create a PAB for our City that achieves what our residents deserve – a PAB that works for our entire community, residents and officers alike.”
In an interview with WXXI News, Council President Loretta Scott said there appears to be a difference of opinion on a key element of what Mayor Lovely Warren is proposing, and the legislation that city council has been working on.
After consulting with an outside law firm, at least some members of city council feel a police accountability board could take disciplinary action against an officer. Scott says their attorneys told them it may take changes to the city charter in order to give a board that power.
“The PAB would establish the discipline based on a matrix, a disciplinary matrix, and they would review the investigative material and determine the level of discipline," Scott said.
Scott says the city council will hold forums on the accountability board soon, and she says it’s possible that when council members are ready to vote on their own legislation, they would also incorporate ideas from the mayor’s plan as well.
“What would be on our table is the council legislation, so perhaps there is some way that we could negotiate something between the two pieces; we’d have to see what the path forward it."
The Police Accountability Board Alliance, which is a citizens coalition pushing for reform of the current oversight system, came out with a statement Thursday night saying that it strongly opposes Mayor Warren’s proposal.
That group calls that proposal “unacceptable” and says it undermines work done by the City Council and the Alliance to draft an ordinance that includes actions it says are needed to ensure true accountability.
The Alliance says Warren’s plan lacks the disciplinary power it feels the new system should have and also fails to give majority representation on the new PAB to the community.
The Alliance also contends that the mayor’s proposal would curtail the PAB’s investigative power.
It is calling on City Council to reject the mayor’s proposal, and pass legislation proposed by the Alliance.