An overwhelming majority of Rochester voters said, “Yes,” to a proposed Police Accountability Board on Tuesday.
Unofficial election results had the ballot proposition passing with 75 percent of the vote. Next up is likely another court battle, as the police officers union is all but certain to revive a lawsuit challenging the legality of the board.
“This is history,” said a celebratory Pastor Wanda Wilson, who is part of the Police Accountability Board Alliance’s executive team. “Rochester is ready … to move forward with transforming our communities with better policing.
“We’ve got some more work to do, but we believe that the way the voters voted tonight is so important,” she said, replacing what some have labeled a small, biased group with a 3:1 majority. “It is what the people of Rochester want.”
As proposed, the Police Accountability Board would be established as an independent office of city government to investigate allegations of misconduct by sworn officers up to and including the chief.
A question of trust
Supporters said the board would help build trust in the Police Department, give residents a voice in how their community is policed and provide a greater sense of justice and transparency. Critics said substantial oversight already exists, that complaints of misconduct are decreasing and not enough to warrant such action, and questioned the legality of allowing an independent board with minimal law enforcement expertise to determine discipline for police officers.
“We’re not saying that all cops don’t do it right,” Wilson said. “But I think (the vote) sends the message that the style and the way some officers choose to do it is no longer acceptable for our community. It has to change.”
How it would work
The nine-member Police Accountability Board would be assisted by an executive director and staff, and have subpoena power, the authority to impose discipline, and to assess RPD practices and procedures.
No more than one member could have a law enforcement background, as long as that is not with RPD and they have been out of the job for at least three years. RPD command staff would be made available to the board to answer questions. The existing civilian review board would remain in place until an executive director is hired.
Mayor Lovely Warren included $350,000 in her 2019-20 budget proposal to cover the first partial year of the operations of the board. The full-year budget is estimated to be closer to $1 million.
The city currently has an advisory board with limited authority that, along with the department’s own internal review process, has sustained a fraction of citizen complaints resulting in scant disciplinary action, records show.