ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Police Accountability Board’s Interim Executive Director, Sherry Walker-Cowart joined the PAB in January.
On Monday, the PAB released its first annual report. It details the work the agency has completed since it began accepting reports from the community last June.
Since 2022, the PAB has received over 300 reports. Walker-Cowart says over 150 reports are still under investigation but investigators are still negotiating with the Rochester Police Department about the release of evidence the PAB needs such as police body camera footage.
“We still don’t have access to the information directly through the police department”, Walker-Cowart explained in an interview with News 8.
One example — the recent police-involved shooting. Last Thursday, the Rochester Police Department released a series of videos and images, including body camera footage worn by an officer who chased a suspect through a northeast neighborhood on Monday, September 25, 2023.
Police say the suspect ambushed the officer and the suspect was shot in the jaw with a bullet from the officer’s handgun. RPD is still investigating.
On Thursday, the PAB announced it was conducting an investigation. Walker-Cowart says these are the types of use of force incidents voters had in mind in 2019 when they created the agency to review police actions, but she says PAB investigators get evidence that is delayed or the request is denied by RPD.
“The solution is for us to have direct access to the data that we need in order for us to do a full, fair, and impartial investigation,” Walker-Cowart says.
Since 2021, the Police Accountability Board has had two executive directors and other leaders who were either terminated or asked to step down. They faced complaints and lawsuits about hostile work environments, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and other workplace violations. In 2022, the Rochester City Council voted to cut the PAB’s budget and several council members expressed a lack of confidence in the agency.
Over the summer City Council conducted an online survey to gauge feedback on the PAB. The survey found that a majority of the participants found the board ineffective.
“We’ve been through a lot but those who are still here and those who are coming are really focused on the mission and that’s what we really want to do”, said Walker-Cowart, adding that the PAB is actively searching for a permanent leader for the agency as well as people to fill a number of other positions.
The PAB has participated in over 120 community events to help combat what Walker-Cowart calls misinformation about the PAB. She says the number of reports increases when they hold community events.
On October 18th, a hearing will be held in state court to determine whether the PAB has the power to discipline officers.