GENEVA — After hours of review and deliberation in a series of work sessions over the past month, City Council has drafted a proposed local law that would create a police accountability board with the ability to investigate and critique conduct by the Geneva Police Department.
The proposed law, released by the city Monday, replaces the “placeholder” submitted by the People’s Peaceful Protest that Council opted for to move the process along.
A public hearing on the proposed local law is set for Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 5:30 p.m.
The law, released by City Attorney Emil Bove, who guided Council through the law’s formation, describes the PAB as an advisory body, with the power of discipline in the hands of the police chief or a delegate. The board can make disciplinary recommendations and conduct its own investigations of alleged police misconduct, but the chief is the ultimate arbiter, the local law states.
Ward 3 Councilor Jan Regan said the PAB might not have disciplinary powers, but it goes a long way toward shining a light on police conduct.
“This law will not be what everyone wants it to be, but I do feel it is a law that all Genevans can support,” said Regan. “Unlike the embattled Rochester PAB law, which the Rochester police union has sued to overturn, the proposed Geneva law does not empower its PAB to mete out discipline to police officers. The power of this PAB resides largely in its ability to conduct followup investigations to the chief’s, and to recommend discipline. It will equip the PAB with a powerful spotlight to eliminate potential problems when police investigate themselves with no outside oversight.
“It also creates a comfortable path for citizens should they wish to report a complaint. Transparency breeds trust. Whether you have marched with the PPP or stood at a ‘Back the Blue’ rally, this law deserves your support as a good step forward for Geneva.”
Regan was the only member of Council to respond to a request for comment by the Finger Lakes Times.
The People’s Peaceful Protest — the thrust behind a host of police-reform measures Council has adopted or is considering — said it supports the legislation.
“The PPP supports Local Law 1-2020 to establish a PAB in Geneva that effectively provides accountability and enhances transparency of the GPD while being legally sound,” the group said in a statement issued to the Times. “The local law incorporates both the five pillars necessary for a successful and effective PAB and input from the community, City Council and the GPD.”
Those five pillars, they explained, are: a board independent of the police; a board with the ability to conduct independent investigations; a board with the power to subpoena witnesses; a board with the ability to review police procedures, policies, patterns and practices and make recommendations; and a board with a role in discipline.
“The chief retains the power to choose and implement discipline for GPD officers,” said the PPP. “However, the PAB will recommend discipline and if the chief chooses not to implement the recommendations of the PAB, an explanation of that decision is required. Since the chief’s written explanations of discipline will be public, there is effective accountability and transparency.”
The proposed law states that the “Geneva City Council finds the best interests of Geneva’s citizens will be furthered by establishing a PAB with authority to review GPD investigations of public complaints of officer misconduct and to engage in other activities.”
However, it notes that “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.”
Here is how a police complaint process would work under the proposed law:
• Within five days after the PAB receives a complaint, it shall provide a copy and documentation, to the police chief “who shall immediately commence an investigation.” The investigation would need to be completed within 30 days of receiving the complaint, but an extension could be granted by the city manager. The PAB would not be allowed to conduct its own investigation until the police finish theirs.
• If the chief determines police actions may be criminal, the matter will be referred to the Ontario County District Attorney’s Office or the state Attorney General’s Office for investigation.
• The chief must share with the PAB all evidence gathered by police, with the findings and determinations of the GPD internal investigation, unless prohibited by law.
• The chief shall provide a copy of the results of the GPD investigation to the PAB within five days.
• Once the PAB receives the chief’s determination the PAB may, by majority vote, decide to conduct its own supplementary investigation.
• After the PAB completes its investigation, it would make a determination on the complaint to the chief.
• The “chief shall 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, and that the chief is not bound by the PAB recommendation,” the law states.
The PAB would issue determinations after reviewing the chief’s decision and completing its own investigation that include 1) complaint is sustained; 2) complaint is not sustained; 3) exoneration; and 4) complaint unfounded.
The PPP noted that the PAB would be charged with conducting at least annual reviews of police operations and providing recommendations on changes to the police chief, city manager and the City Council. It added that the police accountability board also would have the ability to recommend a disciplinary matrix “to support the implementation of standardized, predictable discipline for GPD officers.”