Activists: Why pay an outside law firm to review RPD when we have a Police Accountability Board?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Members of the Police Accountability Board Alliance joined organizers from Free the People ROC outside City Hall Monday to demand that Rochester City Council vote no on hiring outside legal council to review the Rochester Police Department policy.

Activists say the proposal undermines the Police Accountability Board, which city residents overwhelmingly approved of on the ballot last November.

“The PAB is currently organized and ready to do this work,” said Candyce Singletary, PAB Alliance organizer. “An Executive Director for the PAB was voted on last week, and will likely be accepted soon. With the PAB so close to being up and running, why undermine its democratically-agreed upon duty to review and revise RPD policy? If there is a need for outside legal counsel for an RPD investigation, the PAB is more than capable to make that decision for themselves.”

Organizers say City Council will vote on legislation to bring the law firm, WilmerHale, into the fold on renewing and reviewing Rochester police policy and protocol. They say the initial cost for hiring will be $250,000.

Officials from the Police Accountability Board Alliance say WilmerHale’s work in other cities are problematic:

“Just as they did in Baltimore and Chicago when WilmerHale was hired to investigate their respective police departments after high-profile police murders of Black people. Baltimore ended up spending $2.2 million for a WilmerHale investigation that was never completed,” the PAB Alliance said in a press release. “In Chicago, city officials payed out $2.67 million to WilmerHale to investigate the murder of Laquan McDonald. In both cities, WilmerHale charged exorbitant hourly rates and the results of the investigations were underwhelming and unhelpful.”

“The murder of Daniel Prude has shaken our city to its core and it is the legislated and voter-approved responsibility of the Police Accountability Board to review RPD policy and make recommendations so that this never happens again,” Singletary said.

In November of 2019, Rochester voters overwhelmingly approved of the PAB referendum, with 75% of the vote. In January, the nine members of the board were approved by Rochester City Council. The Rochester Police Locust Club, who opposed the formation of the PAB for years, took to the board to court over its disciplinary powers, which were stripped from the PAB earlier this year.

MORE | No disciplinary powers for Rochester Police Accountability Board, says court ruling

The city’s eagerness to work with an outside company is a stark contrast to the level of support and dedication that they’ve shown to our own Police Accountability Board,” said Free the People ROC organizer Stanley Martin. “The PAB in our budget is under $400,000, yet the city is willing to invest $250,000 to a firm that will offer us part-time lawyers that have no connection to our community and in fact has a very mediocre track record as it relates to police work.”

Organizers say they want to see concrete examples of police reform implemented because of WilmerHale’s work in Chicago.

“City Council, the press, and the people of Rochester need to know that there are important unanswered questions and concerns regarding WilmerHale’s past work on policing,” said Free the People ROC organizer Ashley Gantt. WilmerHale is not the solution Rochester residents have been asking for.”

Full press conference:

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