ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — In an open letter posted to the Rochester Police Accountability Board (PAB) website, the organization accused City Council of “trying to take over.”
Tuesday’s letter follows a heated City Council meeting Monday where councilmembers challenged what the PAB was doing if not investigating police. And this exchange is just days removed from the announcement that the PAB executive director Conor Dwyer Reynolds was placed on administrative leave pending the results of independent investigations.
At Monday’s meeting, Councilman Willie Lightfoot questioned the PAB with “What do you guys do over there?” The councilman said the PAB is close to be fully staffed and questioned why they are not taking complaints from the public or doing full investigations.
PAB Chief of Investigations Duwaine Bascoe said it comes down to a number of things, including staffing, software delays, and clarity on regulations. Bascoe added that officials from the Rochester Police Department aren’t willing to meet with the PAB.
Councilmember Mitch Gruber asked if external forces were putting barriers in the way to progress and the PAB representatives admitted to delays in reaching their goals but said they remain committed to the cause of the organization.
PAB officials said in early February, with the announcement of five new full-time hires, that the organization was closer to its goal of launching investigations in spring 2022.
Councilman Jose Peo asked out of a $5 million budget, how much have they spent? The numbers were not readily available.
The PAB is scheduled to hold an emergency board meeting Tuesday night, most of which will take place behind closed doors in an executive session as the board will be discussing specific personnel matters, including the process of selecting an interim administrator while Reynolds remains on leave.
“The PAB is committed to transparency and is also committed to protecting the privacy of our staff, just as we are determined to preserve the confidentiality of members of the public who come forward with complaints about police misconduct,” The PAB said in a Tuesday statement.
Last week, City Council announced a three-point plan for the PAB to follow in the wake of Reyndols’ suspension:
- Hire Outside Counsel
- Establish a Select Committee on PAB
- Enact a moratorium on hiring
In the PAB”s open letter to the community, officials wrote in part: “The recent “3 Point Plan” for the PAB was created, discussed, and voted on without any prior notice or cooperation with the PAB itself. We specifically disagree with the Council’s attempt to implement a total hiring freeze for the agency.”
In 2019, city voters overwhelmingly approved of the creation of the PAB, but court rulings since its founding have stripped the organization of disciplinary power.
PAB letter to the community
In the past few weeks, there have been numerous reports, rumors, and expressions of deep concern about the Rochester Police Accountability Board from many members of our community. We understand and we promise you we take it very seriously.
First and foremost, we want to assure you that the PAB remains a strong and vital institution. The Board members have continued their role in setting policy and we have a talented, dedicated staff who are continuing the work needed to open our doors. Those of you who watched our meeting last Thursday heard a summary of each division’s progress in meeting that goal. In the meantime, the Board is in the process of appointing an interim leader. This leader will oversee the agency’s administration during the time it takes for independent attorneys to complete their investigations.
Next, we want to be clear that we maintain our fundamental commitment to transparency. This means that we will share any and all information concerning the business of the Board when possible. There are, however, some exceptions to this and one is when we discuss personnel matters.We are committed to protecting the privacy of our staff, just as we are determined to preserve the confidentiality of members of the public who come forward with complaints about police misconduct. For that reason, many of our recent meetings needed to be held in Executive Session. Unfortunately, some interpreted this as acting in secret or withholding information from the public. We regret any misunderstanding about this and will do our best to be clear about the reasons whenever we do need to meet in Executive Session.
Another concern we have heard is that the City Council is trying to take over the PAB. We share your concern. From the beginning, the Board has disagreed with members of Council about the independence of our agency. Despite what we believed was an increasingly collaborative relationship with Council, the recent “3 Point Plan” for the PAB was created, discussed, and voted on without any prior notice or cooperation with the PAB itself. We specifically disagree with the Council’s attempt to implement a total hiring freeze for the agency. We are also concerned that they have not taken into account the authority given to the Board by the City Charter to oversee the agency and its Executive Director. Going forward, we hope that by appointing our Council liaison, Kim Smith, to chair the Council’s Special Committee, and include PAB members on it, the Council will demonstrate its commitment to a more collaborative process.
As you may have heard from yesterday’s budget hearing, we have a commitment from Council members to reach out to the Police Chief to ensure that he meets with PAB staff as they have requested and as is mandated by the City Charter. We look forward to hearing the positive results of those conversations today.
In the coming days, we will be sharing more with the public about the ongoing work of the PAB, including:
- presenting our current progress and continuing work at the City Council Budget Hearings;
- sharing our interim process for taking complaints and reports of misconduct;
- announcing the launch of a full-scale community outreach plan to increase awareness of PAB’s interim complaints intake process;
- and working with City officials and community members to receive, evaluate, and provide input on RPD’s updated and full protest policy.
The Police Accountability Board is deeply aware that our work can only be done in partnership with the Rochester community. We are grateful for your continuing support and patience as we prepare to open our doors and work together to change our city for the better.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.