The Geneva community has been calling for a Police Accountability Board (PAB) since at least 2011. On July 2, 2020, Geneva City Council voted 5-4 to pass Resolution #34-2020 to establish a public hearing for a local law establishing a police accountability board in Geneva. The resolution was one of eight that were proposed by the People’s Peaceful Protest, who began demonstrating in the city on May 31, 2020.
Now, after weeks of special council meetings, legal consultations, and public feedback from hundreds of residents, the City of Geneva has released the final draft version of Local Law 1-2020: Local Law Amending the Geneva City Charter To Establish a Police Accountability Board. The proposed law would give the PAB the authority to subpoena witnesses and have unrestricted access to body camera footage.
The public hearing for Local Law 1-2020 will be held on September 23, 2020, and City Council could potentially vote to pass the law during that meeting.
Discipline Question Answered
There have been concerns expressed by the city attorney that any Police Accountability Board (PAB) with the authority to discipline officers for misconduct would likely be challenged in court by the Geneva police union.
Under LL 1-2020:
“…the sole authority to discipline officers shall remain vested in the Chief or his or her delegates, under the supervision of the City Manager pursuant to City Charter section 9.2 or amendments thereto, the New York State Constitution, the New York State Civil Service Law, Section 891 of the Unconsolidated Laws of the State of New York and Collective Bargaining Agreements between the City and the officers.”
Although LL 1-2020 does not currently allow for a PAB with the power to discipline officers, it leaves room for possible changes in the future.
Last year, voters in the City of Rochester overwhelmingly voted in favor of a law to create a PAB with disciplinary powers. The police union filed a lawsuit opposing the PAB and that case is currently under appeal by attorneys representing the Rochester City Council. Oral arguments for the appeal are expected to begin in September or October. If the courts find that a PAB can legally discipline officers, City Council could possibly update the Geneva PAB to add disciplinary authority.
PAB Complaint Process
Here is a very brief summary of how police complaints would generally be handled under LL 1-2020:
- All complaints would be submitted to the PAB.
- Complaints could be submitted anonymously and all complaints would be confidential.
- Within 5 days, copies of complaints would be forwarded to the Geneva Police Department, who would then begin an investigation.
- The GPD would complete all investigations within 30 days, unless they can provide reasons to the PAB and City Manager for an extension.
- The Chief of Police would provide the PAB with all evidence and findings within 5 days after completing any investigation.
- The PAB would review the GPD investigation and vote on whether to conduct its own investigation.
- The PAB would be empowered to interview all complainants, witnesses, and GPD officers.
- The PAB would be able to decide, by majority vote, to subpoena witnesses to appear for interviews and evidence to be produced for the PAB investigation.
- The Chief would await completion of the PAB investigation, determination and recommendation for discipline, if any, before imposing discipline on an officer, unless the law or exceptional circumstances requires discipline to be imposed earlier.
- The Chief could consider but would not be bound by the PAB recommendation.
- The Chief would provide the PAB with a written explanation of his or her decision to discipline or not discipline any Officer(s) and a description of the discipline imposed, if any, and explain why, if said disciplinary action differs from that recommended by the PAB, his or her decision differs from the PAB recommended discipline.
PAB Review of Policy and Procedures
Here is a summary of the PAB’s authority to review and recommend policies and procedures.
- The PAB would conduct reviews (at least annually) of all police policies, procedures, patterns and practices and make recommendations to the chief.
- The PAB may recommend a disciplinary matrix to the chief.
- The PAB would have “regular and unrestricted access to body camera footage in order to review, apart from the public portion of its meeting, the operations of GPD employees.”
- The PAB would send policy recommendations to the Chief, City Manager and City Council, and the Chief would have 30 days to respond and state why he agrees or disagrees with the recommendations.
PAB would provide the public with detailed updates on complaints:
- The PAB would publish monthly reports on complaints.
- The PAB would publish in-depth annual reports on complaints, use of force incidents, how often the chief followed (or didn’t follow) the PAB’s recommendations, and more.
PAB Membership and Training
The procedures for filling seats on the nine-member PAB are, in short:
- The Mayor will appoint 1 member.
- City Council will appoint 3 members, one from each of the three supervisory districts: District 1 (Wards 1 & 2); District 2 (Wards 3 & 4); District 3 (Wards 5 & 6).
- The Geneva Community Compact Committee will provide City Council 10 nominees from the community at large, and City Council will confirm and appoint 5 members.
- The PAB will endeavor to include at least 2 mental health professionals, 1 attorney and 1 member of the clergy.
- The PAB would participate in a broad and independent range of training recommended by the City Manager on consultation with the PAB.
Public Hearing On September 23
The above summary only includes some of the more pertinent details. Please read the full proposed Local Law 1-2020 for more information.
From the city’s website:
The Public Hearing concerning the adoption of Local Law #1-2020 will held on September 23, 2020 at 5:30 PM via Zoom call. Anyone wishing to be heard concerning the amendment of the Geneva City Charter to create a Police Accountability Board may request to be heard that night by zoom comment, or may send comments in writing or by email to the City Clerk, Lori Guinan, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Said requests to be heard by zoom or written or email comments must be received by her no later than twelve o’clock noon on September 23, 2020. There will be a three (3) minute limit on comments made by zoom on the night of the Public Hearing.
Unless there are significant changes to the proposed law, City Council could vote to pass the law at the end of the September 23rd public hearing.