Who should decide the fate of a police officer found guilty of misconduct?
That’s the question at the center of an ongoing community discussion regarding police accountability. Local activists are still pushing for the Police Accountability Board, an independent agency that leaders say would have the power to independently investigate officers after complaints are made, thoroughly dig into the evidence and even discipline the officer.
“It’s obvious that the police can’t police the police,” said Barbara Lacker-Ware, one of the leaders of the campaign during a press conference Tuesday. Lacker-Ware says she called that press conference to address misconceptions related to the board and offer those directly impacted the chance to share their story. Jessenia Edgeston was one of the speakers. She says her husband was beaten by police last year during a stop for a traffic infraction.
“On February 11, I had been ill for weeks,” she said. “My husband left to get some ginger ale and pepto bismol to try and calm my stomach. On this day, my husband got stopped by RPD and was badly beaten to the point, his eye socket was broken and his ribs were fractured. ”
“I didn’t find out until 4 a.m. the next day,” she continued. Edgeston says she now suffers from Post-Traumatic stress Disorder and struggles financially and emotionally without the partnership of her husband.
Organizers want the Board to be completely independent of the Rochester Police Department, have independent investigative authority, the ability to subpoena, the power to evaluate trends in the data and recommend changes to better the force and to be able to discipline officers for misconduct.
That last one is quite the sticking point.
A common belief is that only chiefs of police can discipline officers. This was supported by a recent report from Center for Governmental Research to City Council. That report cited state law 50-a, but Lacker-Ware says that law actually supports the Board’s argument.
“They didn’t do their homework as far as I’m concerned,” said Lacker-Ware. “There is a widespread misconception that no one but the chief of police can impose discipline. Unfortunately, [CGR’s] report mistakenly perpetuated this misconception.”
“Contrary to common misconceptions, state law does not preclude the proposed Police Accountability Board from disciplining officers,” reads Enough is Enough’s latest report: Achieving Police Accountability in Rochester. “Article 75 explicitly acknowledges the possibility that a body, such as the PAB, could discipline officers. Further nothing in the law gives sole discretion to the chief.”
Specifically, 50-a says “all records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion….shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent” of that officer.
Lacker-Ware says they’ve met with representatives of CGR to correct the errors but nothing came of it.
Organizers and speakers will present at City Council monthly. The decision to enact the board ultimately rests in the Council’s hands. Lacker-Ware says President Loretta Scott, Vice President Adam McFadden and Councilman Willie Lightfoot Jr. are all “seriously interested” in learning more. Speakers will present until City Council passes the board, Lacker-Ware said.