ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Officials from the Rochester Police Accountability Board held a press conference Tuesday morning to discuss issues around the board’s “ability to perform its work independently with integrity.”
The PAB was overwhelmingly approved by city voters in 2019, by a margin of 75-25. This year’s city budget provided $5 million for the PAB, which would allow the PAB to be staffed with more than 50 employees, but board members say Rochester City Council is attempting to intervene in the board’s independence.
The Board is currently comprised of nine city residents and currently has three full-time staff members, including Executive Director Connor Dwyer-Reynolds.
Board Chair Shani Wilson says that a new plan from the City of Rochester would remove the PAB’s independence in terms of its staffing.
“We’re speaking out today because we cannot wait any longer to allow the City to compromise the PAB’s autonomy,” Wilson said.
Wilson says City Council is seeking power over PAB staff, including giving the Council President power to hire and fire board employees. She says the plan would also force PAB to nominate employee candidates to Council for President for approval, instead of the Board independently hiring its staff.
“This plan would make the PAB a political tool,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the PAB would be launching a job portal in the coming days, despite the city’s plans, and they said they are prepared to take whatever action necessary to protect the board’s independence.
“We’re asking the community to tell City Council to stop policing the PAB more than they police the police,” Wilson said.
“We had about four or five sessions with City Council in 2019 and we went line by line,” said Ted Forsythe, who helped draft Rochester’s PAB law. “Excruciating two and half hour meetings. The public safety committee of City Council went into that meeting eyes wide open and at the end of that process we came out with a piece of legislation that we could live with and they could live with. It was passed and then affirmed by 75% of the voters in Rochester.”
The board lost its disciplinary powers due to a lawsuit filed by the Rochester Police Locust Club.
According to the PAB page on the city’s website, even without disciplinary powers, “The City Charter requires the PAB to independently investigate complaints of officer misconduct, make every aspect of policing in Rochester transparent, craft new policies and rules to fundamentally change public safety in Rochester, hold City officials accountable for change, and create spaces for the community to be heard.”
City Council officials have not immediately returned a request for comment.
Watch the full press conference
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.