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Council’s police accountability plan gets mixed reviews 

During their first opportunity to weigh in on City Council’s proposed Police Accountability Board, residents had both criticism and praise on Wednesday night.

The controversial board would investigate misconduct complaints against Rochester police officers and determine discipline. For decades, activists have been pushing for an independent civilian board with broad authority, but city officials have never been willing to go this far. In late December, Mayor Lovely Warren proposed a civilian board that would have investigative powers, but she has said that the police union contract and state law require that the police chief maintain the power to discipline officers .
click to enlarge Rochester City Council staffer BJ Scanlon takes notes at  the Council's Police Accountability Board community input session. - PHOTO BY JAMES A. BROWN
  • PHOTO BY JAMES A. BROWN
  • Rochester City Council staffer BJ Scanlon takes notes at the Council's Police Accountability Board community input session.

One of the most frequent concerns voiced by the roughly 30 people at last night's forum was the role of the city’s corporation counsel. Under the City Council bill, the corporation counsel would function as the lawyer for the Accountability Board along with its work for the city. Some residents said that could lead to conflicts of interest.

Other concerns came from Mary Lupien, a City Council candidate and a member of the Police Accountability Board Alliance, a community group that has advocated for years for an independent board. She praised most of the proposed legislation but said she is worried about the board's composition.

The Council proposal calls for a nine-member board. It would include one person appointed by the mayor, four appointed by City Council, and four chosen from a pool of recommendations from the Police Accountability Board Alliance.

“The majority of the board has been given to City Hall instead of the Police Accountability Board,” Lupien said. Lupien said she preferred an 11-member board, with the majority not named by the mayor or Council.

Mike Mazzeo, the president of the Locust Club police union, also expressed concerns about the board makeup. The draft legislation excludes anyone affiliated with law enforcement. Mazzeo said law enforcement needs to be involved so that the board understands police matters.

“I’m not sure that you’re going to get buy-in to some type of program or legislation that makes statements like, ‘If your father and father’s grandfather was in law enforcement, that you can’t be a part of a board,” Mazzeo said.

Mazzeo said he is also concerned that the union was not consulted while the bill was being written. And he said he’s researched similar attempts from across the country, and that “good attempts” have failed because of “economic reasons.”

But city resident Phyllis Harmon disagreed with Mazzeo. Harmon said she was a victim of police brutality in the summer of 2013. “They need to get the police out of it,” she said. “If they’re the ones who victimized you, you don’t let their boss cover it up.”

Council will hold two more community input sessions next week: on Monday, January 28, at the Danforth R-Center, 200 West Avenue., and on Thursday, January 31, in the City Hall atrium, 30 Church Street. Both sessions will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Council President Loretta Scott said Councilmembers could amend the draft legislation based on what they hear during the forums.

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