ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott responded Thursday to allegations that Council was attempting to assume control over the city’s Police Accountability Board.
PAB officials held a press conference Tuesday, claiming that City Council was tying to remove the board from an independent body. Among the claims, PAB officials said City Council was seeking the power to make hiring and firing decisions for PAB staff.
In a statement Wednesday, Scott said the intent has always been to ensure PAB acts as a “unit within City government, independent of the Rochester Police Department.” She then said, to date, PAB has not investigated a single citizen complaint since it was approved nearly two years ago. Scott’s full statement is as follows:
“On September 3rd, the City’s Deputy Corporation Counsel Patrick Beath received a letter from the Police Accountability Board’s legal representation, Shearman & Sterling, LLP, demanding the City recognize the PAB as an autonomous body, fully independent from the City Council. I will refrain from commenting further on the legalities of this matter until our Deputy Corporation Counsel issues his formal response.
As the authors of this legislation, we remain steadfast in our support of the PAB as a sub-unit of the City Council. Our intent has always been to ensure the PAB acts as a unit within City government, independent of the Rochester Police Department. As such, the PAB has always been held to the same set of standards and expectations as any other City department, bureau, or unit.
The referendum creating the PAB was approved by Rochesterians in November 2019, and to this day, the PAB has not investigated a single citizen complaint.
Nonetheless, Council has continuously demonstrated our support of the PAB and the advancement of its mission. We have dedicated $170,000 in legal fees defending the PAB’s disciplinary powers, utilized our own staff resources to ensure they operated smoothly prior to the Executive Director’s appointment, and continue to offer our guidance as they lay their foundation. In July, we unanimously passed legislation to hire a consultant firm to assist in developing their policies and procedures. City departments spanning from Information Technology, to the Department of Environmental Services, to Human Resources have given their full cooperation in seeing that the needs of the PAB were met.
We will continue to champion the PAB and work together as we navigate the difficulties of starting something so unprecedented. We look forward to the day the PAB opens their doors to the public and fully dedicates their time to fighting for a more transparent public safety system in Rochester.”
PAB officials responded Thursday with the following statement:
“We are discussing this precisely because it is preventing us from doing our work,” said PAB Chair Shani Wilson. “The City Charter protects the integrity of our investigations by saying we must operate as an ‘independent office of City government’ that controls the ‘hiring and supervising’ of its staff. What community member or police officer would trust a PAB controlled by politicians? The Charter is clear. Let us get to work”.
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.
The Board is currently comprised of nine city residents and currently has three full-time staff members, including Executive Director Connor Dwyer-Reynolds.
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.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.