Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott won’t comment on PAB independence request, maintains council supports board
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott Thursday said the city’s Police Accountability Board still has the council’s support but would hold back on commenting on the board’s request to be independent from the council.
Scott said she’d hold off on making a comment until after the city’s Deputy Corporation Counsel, Patrick Beath, makes his own statement.
The board, which was created due in part to help from the council, held a news conference Tuesday saying the council refused to let the organization operate independently on critical decisions, such as hiring staff to help with the board’s investigations.
The board’s legal representative sent a notice to Beath to make the demand, something Scott confirmed.
"As the authors of this legislation, we remain steadfast in our support of the PAB as a sub-unit of the City Council," Scott said. "Our intent has always been to ensure the PAB acts as a unit within City government, independent of the Rochester Police Department. As such, the PAB has always been held to the same set of standards and expectations as any other City department, bureau, or unit."
Additionally, she mentioned council has footed roughly $170,000 in legal fees to help the board’s push to obtain disciplinary powers, which it still hasn’t received.
Earlier this year, the board did receive a boost in its budget. First, New York State put aside roughly $500,000 for the board, and then, Mayor Lovely Warren approved for the board to be fully funded at $5 million as part of the city’s budget. At the time, the board said the money would help them hire 55 staff members, and the three bureaus would focus on officer accountability, systemic change, and a bureau of administration.
But, with financial support aside, Scott claims the board has yet to investigate a single civilian complaint against an officer. The board was solidified in January of 2020 after the majority of Rochester voters approved of the Police Accountability Board referendum in November of 2019.
The board did, however, launch an investigation into RPD conduct including two separate pepper-spraying arrests either involving children or in the presence of children, as well as the death of Tyshon Jones, who was shot and killed as he charged at officers with a knife.
The city’s charter gives the board the ability to hire outside counsel, and the ability to obtain records through subpoenas.
Prior to Scott’s comments, board Vice-Chair Danielle Tucker said the council’s reluctance to grant full independence to the board was essentially making its funding void.
“To make it extremely clear, city council has prevented us from posting jobs to fill positions we need to make it possible to do the work that the Rochester community has voted for,” Tucker said.
The board was able to hire two senior staff members in June.
Scott said the council will continue to "champion" the PAB.
"We look forward to the day the PAB opens their doors to the public and fully dedicates their time to fighting for a more transparent public safety system in Rochester," she said.
PAB’s attorneys are continuing to explore all legal options. The group also states it will soon be launching an online job portal to maintain forward progress.
You can read Scott’s full message below:
On September 3rd, the City’s Deputy Corporation Counsel Patrick Beath received a letter from the Police Accountability Board’s legal representation, Shearman & Sterling, LLP, demanding the City recognize the PAB as an autonomous body, fully independent from the City Council. I will refrain from commenting further on the legalities of this matter until our Deputy Corporation Counsel issues his formal response.
As the authors of this legislation, we remain steadfast in our support of the PAB as a sub-unit of the City Council. Our intent has always been to ensure the PAB acts as a unit within City government, independent of the Rochester Police Department. As such, the PAB has always been held to the same set of standards and expectations as any other City department, bureau, or unit.
The referendum creating the PAB was approved by Rochesterians in November 2019, and to this day, the PAB has not investigated a single citizen complaint.
Nonetheless, Council has continuously demonstrated our support of the PAB and the advancement of its mission. We have dedicated $170,000 in legal fees defending the PAB’s disciplinary powers, utilized our own staff resources to ensure they operated smoothly prior to the Executive Director’s appointment, and continue to offer our guidance as they lay their foundation.
In July, we unanimously passed legislation to hire a consultant firm to assist in developing their policies and procedures. City departments spanning from Information Technology, to the Department of Environmental Services, to Human Resources have given their full cooperation in seeing that the needs of the PAB were met.
We will continue to champion the PAB and work together as we navigate the difficulties of starting something so unprecedented. We look forward to the day the PAB opens their doors to the public and fully dedicates their time to fighting for a more transparent public safety system in Rochester.