GENEVA — Adam Fryer implored City Council to bring what he said are long-sought police reforms to the city.
“Let’s lead the way for police reform and stop kicking the can like we always do,” said the spokesman for the Black Lives Matter: The People’s Peaceful Protest group during Wednesday night’s Council meeting.
After listening to some 2½ hours of public comment, during which a majority of speakers on Zoom asked Council to adopt a series of resolutions related to police reform, a bleary-eyed City Council adopted the majority of them while tabling two others for further discussion. In all, the meeting lasted over six hours.
The largest of the victories for the city’s police reform advocates was a resolution, passed by a 5-4 vote, that sets in motion the process for creating a civilian-controlled police accountability board to investigate and make determinations on complaints of misconduct involving the Geneva Police Department. The late-hour passage of votes found councilors, some of them testy, modifying and attempting to modify language to resolutions penned not by Council or the city, but by the People’s Peaceful Protest leaders and sponsored by Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra.
Only one of the votes was unanimous; many passed by slim majorities.
Voting in favor of a public hearing for the creation of a police advisory board were Salamendra, Tom Burrall (Ward 1), Jan Regan (Ward 3), Ken Camera (Ward 4) and John Pruett (Ward 6). Mayor Steve Valentino, Bill Pealer (Ward 2), Anthony Noone (At-Large) and Frank Gaglianese (At-Large) voted against the measure.
Some councilors emphasized that their no votes did not necessarily indicate opposition, but rather that the resolutions needed additional discussion that included more community voices before being adopted.
Valentino said on a couple of occasions Wednesday night the process was moving too fast.
On Thursday, he issued the following statement:
“The city of Geneva, City Council and staff have many challenges currently in front of them and coming in the near future that will need serious discussions and collaboration from everyone. Council needs to make responsible decisions that will have positive effects socially and economically. The police reform issues comment from myself is what I have been saying: We realize reform is needed. It’s important, and it is the council’s responsibility. The importance of making sound, informed decisions is not a delay tactic. It is the right thing to do to implement substantial changes that are well thought out and sustainable. That doesn’t have to take forever. That is why the governor realizes it doesn’t happen overnight. I am not a fan of passing resolutions that only indicate we need to work on something. We need to pass resolutions that are complete and defined with the public’s knowledge of the changes and implications.”
The People’s Peaceful Protest group issued a statement following the vote, declaring victory for advocates of police reform in Geneva, a city that has endured a number of alleged police abuses over the years.
“Our many victories at the July 1 city council meeting are just the first steps towards equity and systemic reform of our police department and city government,” the statement read. “One major goal of this movement has been to bring sensible reforms to the table for the betterment of the entire community. We appreciate the council’s support of these common-sense policies and look forward to continuing the discussion about the issues that the community, including the NAACP, have been working to implement for years.
“A police accountability board has been brought forward over and over and never got a start, but it is moving forward now and we are committed to seeing it through!”
Ultimately, six of the eight resolutions on the agenda related to police reform passed, including setting a public hearing for establishing the accountability board. City Clerk Lori Guinan said the creation of the body will require a change to the city charter by Council, which must pass the measure twice following the public hearing that is set for Aug. 5. Guinan said there are some councilors who would like to move the hearing into July, as part of a special meeting.
Resolutions to end no-knock warrants and one that would revise the city police department’s use of force policy were tabled for further discussion. A resolution that would have school resource officers not carry guns or handcuffs in schools was pulled at the request of The People’s Peaceful Protest group
Here are the measures, and for simplicity, the no votes:
• Ensuring diversity and standards for the Community Compact Committee, with amendments. Passed, 7-2. Opposed: Valentino and Gaglianese,
• Requiring collection and reporting of Geneva Police Department data metrics, with amendments. Passed, 8-1. Opposed: Gaglianese.
• Creating a process and timeline for revising the city of Geneva body camera policy. Passed, 5-4. Opposed: Noone, Gaglianese, Pealer and Valentino.
• Establishing a police budget advisory board. Passed, 5-4. Opposed: Noone, Gaglianese, Pealer and Valentino.
• Establishing a whistle-blower protection policy for the city. Passed, 9-0.
While advocates for reform were elated, one resident said the votes were disappointing
“A midnight vote is anything but transparent,” said Joy Simmons in an email to the Finger Lakes Times. “One additional and very important fact that should be noted and reported is that there is a counterpetition that supports the Geneva Police Department and transparency in City Council.”
The petition demands, in part, that no cuts be made to the police department and that Council express its support for the force. Simmons noted that the petition had 2,444 signatures as of Wednesday night, while the People’s Peaceful Protest had 1,780.
“I am deeply disappointed in the Council’s action to pass resolutions to reform the Geneva Police Department during a midnight meeting,” she said. “The call for transparency in the decision-making process, and careful and thoughtful deliberation by those with multiple perspectives (including law enforcement leadership) was overridden by demands of an intolerant segment of our community that wishes to silence any opposing viewpoints or diversity of thought.”
City Police Chief Mike Passalacqua issued the following statement on Friday:
“Based on the passed proposals from Wednesday night, I will be working closely with the city manager, city attorney and mayor as we move forward to get these passed proposals moving forward. I look forward to doing this and being a part of the discussions and positive change we are all looking for.”
And Chris Toole, a member of the Teamsters union representing Geneva police, issued the following statement Thursday evening in response to the actions:
“Your report states that ‘dozens’ of people came before the council and voiced their opinions and demands for reform….however a number of people voiced caution. There are almost 13,000 residents in the city of Geneva, so I am not swayed that dozens of people with an anti-police agenda were able to take a public meeting hostage to voice their demands. Is there a need to evaluate training and procedures in law enforcement? I do not believe that there is a single man or woman charged with enforcing our laws that doesn’t agree that change, inclusion or reform may be needed. However, the vast majority of police, deputies, sheriff officers, etc. are dedicated, motivated champions in their field. That goes for each and every single police officer and command officer within the Geneva Police Department.
“Both the police officers and command officers have contracts with the city of Geneva. Those contracts allow the city and the chief of police complete oversight over their officers. This includes the right to receive and investigate complaints, issue discipline and demand or force re-training or more when needed. In return, these officers and command officers are entitled to protections that include the right to a hearing and innocence until proven otherwise. Rights that every citizen enjoys.
“The council of Geneva has members that will participate in rallies where people will hold signs stating ‘kill a police officer’ or worse. It has other council members that will not stand up and object to that because they are afraid of the public backlash. I say shame on all of them. The police officers and command officers of Geneva took an oath to protect and serve their community. They are spit on, they are vilified and they are scorned. Yet they come to work every day and put their lives on the line, for all of you.”
This story was updated to include the comments of Passalacqua and Toole, who responded after the Finger Lakes Times’ print deadline.