police accountability

A decades-long struggle for an independent police accountability board took center stage in Rochester last year.

With a referendum on the ballot, early voters in Rochester are already weighing in on a proposed police accountability board. The proposed board has caused intense debate within the community. If approved, the civilian-led oversight board would act independently from city government and the Rochester Police Department to investigate complaints of police misconduct.

The Rochester Police Locust Club says the legislation is not legal, despite a recent decision by a panel of state Appellate Division justices to allow the vote.

Our guests debate the proposed board and discuss police-community relations. In studio:

“Torture is an open secret in Chicago. Nobody in power wants to acknowledge this grim reality, but everyone knows it happens—and that the torturers are the police.”

That’s the opening of the summary of a new book called “The Torture Letters” written by Princeton University anthropology professor Laurence Ralph. Ralph is a social scientist who studies police violence and race in the United States.

He’s in Rochester as a guest of the University of Rochester, where he’ll give a lecture Wednesday evening. We talk to him about his research, and about police-community relations in American cities. In studio:

  • Laurence Ralph, professor of anthropology, and director of the Center on Transnational Policing at Princeton University; and author of “Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago,” and “The Torture Letters”

James Brown WXXI

The city of Rochester is likely headed back to court. The police union is suing the city to stop a public vote on who will discipline police officers. 

Rochester Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo says the new police accountability board goes too far.


Tuesday night was a milestone in a decades-long fight over how police misconduct claims in Rochester should be handled. Rochester City Council passed a new law creating an independent police accountability board. The vote was unanimous. The board would handle police misconduct claims. Council President Loretta Scott called the vote "momentous."


Rochester City Council is considering amendments to the proposed legislation for a Police Accountability Board.

One of the changes to earlier legislation for that oversight board has to do with the makeup of the PAB.

Council’s original proposal barred former law enforcement officers from being on the panel. The amendment would allow up to one member of the board to have a background in law enforcement, as long as three or more years have elapsed since their employment. But anyone who had worked for the RPD would still not be able to be on the board.

James Brown / WXXI News

Dozens of people crowded Rochester City Council chambers on Tuesday night. They spoke for and against the proposed independent police accountability board.

City Council introduced its version of the board back in January. Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo is against that proposal as it stands now, and says that Council should restart the process.

Police accountability has been a subject of conversation in the Rochester community for several decades, with one of the main questions being, ‘should law enforcement have a role in deciding how police officers are disciplined?’

In recent weeks, City Hall and City Council have released proposals for police accountability boards. In our first of several upcoming conversations on this subject, we sit down with members of City Council, who discuss their draft legislation and their priorities. We also hear from members of the Police Accountability Board Alliance. In studio:

James Brown WXXI

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. 

This week the Rochester Police Department admitted that two officers roughed up a black man without justification. It comes at a time when police accountability is a significant topic of debate: how to reform the system and make sure it leads to justice?

Our guests discuss it: