Updated: January 29, 2020 03:21 PM
Created: January 28, 2020 11:37 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester’s new Police Accountability Board formally started business Tuesday night, but its first meeting came just a few hours after it was legally defanged in court.
An injunction from Monroe County Judge John Ark said any discipline of Rochester police must remain under the control of the city’s Police Chief, not the board.
The board’s authority to demand evidence to investigate accusations of police misconduct, and to overrule the chief in disciplining police, had been under a legal challenge by the Rochester Police Locust Club.
The union had sued, saying giving those powers to an outside board violated state law and the city’s contract with its police.
Judge Ark’s injunction put those powers on hold pending the resolution of that lawsuit.
City Council President Loretta Scott, an avid advocate for the PAB, said the setback was not a serious issue as the board started work.
"We are aware that what we are doing hasn't been done before and that there's a lot of territory that must be covered so so we're not dismayed by his ruling,” she said.
For the time being, board members said they’d be unaffected by the ruling because in the near term they’d be busy ironing out extremely preliminary groundwork like establishing administrative infrastructure, hiring an Executive Director, and selecting a chair and vice-chair.
"We will be working on training,” newly-selected Vice-Chair Celia McIntosh said. “We will be working on developing our bylaws So, at this moment, no. We are just going to move forward."
The injunction also said the board can do investigations into accusations of police misconduct but could not demand evidence like body camera video if it was not already public.
In a statement, the city’s lawyer Tim Curtin said the city would prefer the judge to just wait until there’s a final ruling on whether the Police Accountability Board law could legally stand.
On its first night, board members say they have a lot of busywork to do, like figuring out exactly how the board would eventually get people to submit accusations of police misconduct, which was still a work in progress.
Part of the thing I think the city is having a problem with right now as far as the police department is that a lot of people don’t know what to do and who to talk to,” community activist Shani Wilson, elected to serve as the new Chair of the Police Accountability Board, said.
The board planned to reconvene on Feb. 11.
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