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A divided City Council passes police reform plan 

Police converge on City Hall on Sept. 16, 2020, in response to demonstrators "occupying" the exterior of the building.

PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE

Police converge on City Hall on Sept. 16, 2020, in response to demonstrators "occupying" the exterior of the building.

Two days before the deadline, the Rochester City Council has passed its state-mandated police reform plan.

The plan passed by a vote of 5-to-3, with councilmembers Mary Lupien, Mitch Gruber, and Malik Evans voting no. Councilmember Jose Peo, a vocal supporter of law enforcement, was absent from the meeting, and did not participate in any of the Council's debates over amendments to the plan.

In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Executive Order 203, which required every municipality in the state to create and adopt a police reform plan, at the risk of losing state funding. Mayor Lovely Warren's administration tasked four groups—the Police Accountability Board, the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity, the Rochester Police Department, and United Christian Leadership Ministries—with helping to form the document.

The document ultimately gives recommendations on increasing the use of non-police first responders, restricting officers' use of restraints and less-than-lethal weapons, improving the city's response to mental health crisis calls, and many other aspects of policing.

The draft plan was released by Warren on Feb. 4, and was the subject of several public forums. But last week, Council members engaged in lengthy debate as they attempted to amend the plan to add specifics about policy changes, timelines for recommended actions, and its overall goals.

"We put in some really arduous hours going through it on a very short timeframe, making adjustments and amendments," Council President Loretta Scott said. "Which is the guidance we received from the mayor when she handed it over to us and she said, 'It's yours, do what you need to do with it.'"

No members of Council expressed enthusiasm for the final plan. Councilmember Miguel Meléndez said he would not call it an "A-plus plan."

Gruber, in voting it down, said the process to reform policing in Rochester can be done better during this year's budgetary process.

"I think anyone who reads this plan can agree that it does not read like a roadmap that gets us to where we need to be as a community," Gruber said. "Frankly, I want to stop letting big community-wide opportunities for change pass us by."

Heading into Monday's vote, Council members expressed their frustration with several amendments added by the administration after Council made a series of changes to the plan last week. On Friday, the city's law department added three amendments to the bill, which included specifying the Police Accountability Board was a subordinate agency of City Council, and that its budgetary needs ultimately went through Council.

Last Thursday, Council voted on a resolution that urged Warren to fire Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin, the top lawyer in City Hall, over his handling of information related to the death of Daniel Prude. Curtin's actions were outlined in a report from attorney Andrew Celli, who Council hired to investigate the city's handling of Prude's death, released earlier in March.

Some Council members, as well as the Police Accountability Board, criticized the law department amendments, which they said were not done in a public manner. Conor Dwyer Reynolds, executive director of the Police Accountability Board, expressed concern that the amendments were added in retaliation for Council's resolution urging Curtin's firing.

"Egregious, wrong, inappropriate, I can use so many words to describe what we just saw," Reynolds, said. "Allowing Tim Curtin to rewrite the bill to eliminate support for the PAB and instead have a provision discussing our independence of power, without the public knowing about it, and without letting the public know it had been changed, is beyond inappropriate."

The last-minute additions prompted Council member and mayoral candidate Malik Evans to vote no on the plan.

"All of a sudden, at the last minute, I saw that changes were made," Evans said. "Be them minor or not minor is immaterial. In partnerships, we have to work together, talk together, we can't look to hash things out a couple minutes before the meeting. To me, I find that unacceptable."

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.
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