ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The latest decision from the New York Court of Appeals will not give the Police Accountability Board the power to discipline Rochester police officers.
A majority vote upheld previous rulings on the matter between the PAB and the Locust Club, siding again with the Locust Club that the PAB having disciplinary powers would violate Taylor Law.
The court also explained that the New York State Legislature has the power to intervene and modify or clarify state bargaining policy. Until then, the judge says that the result resembles an odd game of rock-paper-scissors:
“A state law favoring strong disciplinary authority beats the Taylor Law, municipal law beats a policy of strong disciplinary authority, but the Taylor Law beats municipal law.“
Rochester City Council has been trying to reinstate an amendment that would allow the board to discipline officers, which RPD’s police union argued against, claiming it passed without negotiation.
The union, known as the Rochester Police Locust Club, filed a lawsuit in 2019 arguing that it violated Taylor’s Law, which required collective bargaining over the terms and conditions of employment. The court ruled in favor of the Locust Club, which City Council has tried and failed to appeal.
“Here in Rochester the formation of the Police Accountability board was not about providing true oversight for the betterment of the city,” the Locust Club said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “Instead, the PAB was all about going after ‘allegedly’ bad cops, with no concern on providing protection for good cops doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, which means with the tools and resources that they were or were not given.”
There was a 1907 charter that gave the City of Rochester control of police discipline, but that was overturned in 1985 by the City Council.
The Rochester Mayor’s Office deferred comment to the City Council.
In regards to the ruling, the PAB’s members and City Council President Miguel Meléndez expressed their disappointment in the decision, with interim director Sherry Walker-Cowart saying the people of Rochester want an independent and robust PAB.
“This is disappointing, but it is not the end,” said Walker-Cowart. “With community support, the Police Accountability Board will continue to provide transparency, accountability, and justice in Rochester.”
“This case was taken to the highest Court in the State, and this Council has now exhausted every effort to define the disciplinary powers of the Police Accountability Board,” said Meléndez “Now that we have been given the final determination, we must move forward with this very important work.”
Full Ruling from the New York State Court of Appeals
Full Statement from the Police Accountability Board:
“The Police Accountability Board is disappointed with the decision by the New York State Appellate Court to remove the agency’s disciplinary power. While the ruling is impactful to civilian oversight, the PAB remains committed to conducting rigorous, unbiased investigations into allegations of police misconduct. The agency will continue to recommend appropriate actions and disciplinary measures to the Rochester Police Department based on our findings. The RPD is still required to inform the community if they plan to implement the PAB’s recommendations, a condition outlined in the City Charter and demanded by Rochester voters in 2019.“
“The people of Rochester called for an independent and robust Police Accountability Board. Since then we have established an agency that gives them a voice. Not just through independent investigations of alleged misconduct, but through policy reform, and increased community input on how public safety is carried out in this city,” said Sherry Walker-Cowart, Interim Executive Director of The PAB. “This is disappointing, but it is not the end. With community support, the Police Accountability Board will continue to provide transparency, accountability, and justice in Rochester.”
“In addition to investigation efforts, the Police Accountability Board will also persist in
making policy recommendations to promote the highest standards of law enforcement.
The agency’s policy Proposals for Change and Oversight Investigations will continue to
serve as a critical tool for driving systemic change, ensuring that best practices are
adopted to enhance community safety and trust.“
“The Police Accountability Board calls upon policymakers, legislators, and the public to engage in a meaningful dialogue about the role and responsibilities of the Police Accountability Board and to explore avenues for equipping the agency with all it needs to conduct its work.“
Full Statement from the Rochester Police Locust Club
“The decision of the NYS Court of Appeals regarding police discipline in the matter of Rochester Police Locust Club, Inc V. City of Rochester, et al, is not about failure to reform policing in this city or across the country. This matter was about fairness, due process rights, and rendering a decision of a union worker under an allegation through an unbiased review of the facts.
For far too long unfair disciplinary findings of police officers have been determined by everything but a thorough and impartial evaluation of all relevant information, including the specific alleged actions, consistency with training and policies, and the overall context of the situation.
A fair process will not shield a police officer from facing the correct level of discipline or termination. It will prevent the undue influence from political, social, or media pressure being directed unfairly at an individual police officer.
A fair unbiased process will only improve a long and honorable profession that has consistently overall served with respect, integrity, and dignity throughout the history of this country. This approach will contribute to fostering trust and accountability within law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve if given the chance.
Here in Rochester the formation of the Police Accountability board (PAB) was not about providing true oversight for the betterment of the city. The concept of oversight is about taking a broad view over something, for the purpose of improvement. Oversight is composed of “over”, and “sight”, meaning looking but not touching.
Instead, the PAB was all about going after “allegedly” bad cops, with no concern on providing protection for good cops doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, which means with the tools and resources that they were or were not given.
The decision is not a win for just police officers, it is about ensuring that every governmental procedure that is undertaken in this democratic state is conducted with fairness, equality, and due process.“Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo
Full Statement from City Council President Miguel Meléndez
“First, the Rochester City Council sincerely thanks Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Esq. and the staff of Emery Celli Abady Brinckerhoff Ward & Maazel, LLP for their hard work and dedication to this case over the last several years.“
“Today, the State of New York Court of Appeals issued a ruling, 4-3, upholding the previous decisions invalidating the Police Accountability Board’s disciplinary powers.“
“The Rochester City Council still believes that accountability of all public servants – including our police department – is of the utmost importance. This case was taken to the highest Court in the State, and this Council has now exhausted every effort to define the disciplinary powers of the Police Accountability Board. Now that we have been given the final determination, we must move forward with this very important work.“
“In 2019, voters demonstrated their commitment to accountability, and by a 3 to 1 margin, Rochesterians voted in favor of the Police Accountability Board and sought to invest disciplinary powers within it. The former Council knew then, as we know now, that establishing such a board would be challenged by those who wish to maintain the status quo. This Council remains committed to accountability in our city, not just for our police department, but all agencies within City government.“