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Rochester police, schools and public participation 

If you care about the future of Rochester, you’ll have plenty to pay attention to during the next several months, and some important meetings to show up at. Among the most important:

Police oversight: As our current article on that topic notes, for decades activists have been urging city officials to reform the way city government handles citizens’ complaints about police officers. And in the wake of intense pressure from the citizens group the Police Accountability Board Alliance, City Council has been trying to come up with a new system that will protect the rights of both civilians and police officers and that will meet the requirements of state law.

That hasn’t been easy, and in late December, with Council still working on legislation to present to the public, Mayor Lovely Warren acted herself, sending Council legislation to create a new Police Accountability Board. Rather than vote on it, however, Council plans to hold Warren’s legislation in committee while it review it. It will complete its own legislation, and hold public forums on it.

These forums will be some of the most important public sessions Rochester has had in a very long time. And they’ll be on a topic of intense interest and emotion. Two things are indisputable. One: Police officers face challenges in their jobs – some of them dangerous ones – that few other people face. Two: There continue to be allegations of serious, disturbing police misconduct, and the city continues to settle claims related to police actions.

Police and the public must trust each other, and right now, that’s very much not the case in some parts of Rochester. Reforming the civilian oversight process won’t do the job by itself, but trust won’t be rebuilt without that reform. City Council’s public forums are an important next step in one of the most important deliberations city government will have this year. While dates haven’t been announced yet, City Council President Loretta Scott says she hopes to have the forums in late January or early February. All of us should show up, listen, learn, and comment.

The Aquino report: The Rochester school district is under a great deal of stress right now, some of it its own making, some very much not. The “very much not” is related to the severe poverty in which many of the district’s children live. Poverty – particularly generations of poverty and the concentration of poverty in specific neighborhoods – can have a terrible impact on children. That’s simply a fact.

It’s also a fact that racism has had a terrible impact, both within the community and within the district. And it’s a fact that the Rochester school district has compounded the effects of poverty through inconsistent, ineffective management, poor oversight, and other problems. The recent analysis by the district’s state-appointed Distinguished Educator, Jaime Aquino, simply emphasizes what years of other reports have shown.

Aquino, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, and representatives of the state’s Board of Regents will hold a community meeting on January 10 (4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Wilson Foundation Academy, 200 Genesee Street) to discuss Aquino’s report and to get public comments. Given the public’s current lack of faith in the district, there’ll be a temptation to use that meeting to hurl insults and point fingers. That won’t move us forward. Honesty and the willingness to address very difficult problems together might.

Aquino’s report could give Rochester a chance to finally get this right. I hope we don’t waste this chance.

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