June 1 rally

Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua looks on as those leading a June 1 rally at the public safety building speak to the crowd. Two recent petitions — one calling for police department reform, the other backing the city law enforcement — have generated hundreds of signatures.

GENEVA — An online petition circulated earlier this month calling for Geneva Police Department reform.

Now, a pro-police petition has surfaced, and it criticizes City Council, the mayor and city manager for talk of defunding GPD and cutting personnel.

A link to the petition was sent to the Times over the weekend by John “JD” Winter, a GPD detective. He referred questions to Officer Brian Choffin.

Choffin said he didn’t start the petition, but saw it on Facebook and shared it. He believes it was created by the wife or girlfriend of a GPD officer, but said he doesn’t know who.

“I stand behind it,” said Choffin, who is retiring next month.

The petition, which had more than 1,800 signatures as of Monday afternoon, began a little more than a week after another addressing reforms in the department was initiated in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and several peaceful protests in Geneva. That petition has approximately the same number of signatures.

“This is not anti-Black Lives Matter. This is about defunding police,” Choffin said. “We all believe what happened to George Floyd was wrong. It was terrible.”

The pro-police petition makes reference to “recent attacks” from the Geneva City Council, the mayor and city manager, and a call to defund police from an “agitator” on the Council.

Council was scheduled to have a work session to discuss police reform Monday night, and the topic was expected to dominate Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“This is thanks to the lack of leadership on the part of the city manager and the city mayor,” the petition reads. “Their gentle and enabling approach toward the hateful, vile and downright disgusting the way the officers of GPD have been treated over the past three weeks have jeopardized not only the safety of the city, but the safety of all Geneva police officers.”

The Times sent emails seeking comment on the petition to Mayor Steve Valentino, city Manager Sage Gerling and Geneva PD Chief Mike Passalacqua, as well as the nine Councilors. Valentino and Gerling referenced proposed resolutions related to police reform that could be introduced at Wednesday’s Council meeting.

The majority of the resolutions are expected to be offered by Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra, a longtime proponent of such reforms.

“The reduction of the police department salary line item is being proposed by two Councilors and not city administration,” Gerling wrote. “If Resolution 29-2020 passes, I will work with Chief Passalacqua and Adam Blowers, city comptroller and assistant city manager, on how we achieve the mid-year budget amendment.”

Valentino said his comments have been consistent, but may not be what people want to hear.

“I support the GPD and feel we are fortunate to have them protecting our city,” the mayor said. “I also appreciate Chief Passalacqua’s leadership providing the expectations for his team to act in the best interest of the city while upholding the law. No easy task by any means. I also support changes to current policies that will benefit both the people and the police to prevent any abuse of power or racism.”

Valentino noted that per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order, communities must adopt a police reform plan by April 1, 2021. Input from all required entities will be considered before one is adopted, the mayor said.

“The current proposed resolutions, in my opinion, do not do that yet,” Valentino said. “They have the right intentions in general, but there hasn’t been input from the police department, the NAACP or the Community Compact, which I feel is very important.

“I also understand emotions are running high. Geneva is better than we are showing, and given a chance to work together we can get past the current separation and frustration and create change that has value.”

"I stand ready to be an integral part in the future of Geneva when it comes not only to policing, but also as it pertains to being a part of the community I was born and raised in," Passalacqua added. "I will do everything I can to promote positivity along all lines and work to come to solutions that truly benefit all of Geneva."

"My opinions may not always be agreed with, but this isn't about me. This is about our city and what is best for everyone that lives, plays and works here," he added. "My hope is that we can make the changes necessary to come to a solution that suits the citizens of Geneva."

Ward 3 Councilor Jan Regan, one of two councilors to respond to a request Monday for comment on the petition, said the police reform issue has been the talk of the community. She cautioned that misinformation has been spread regarding potential actions of Council regarding the police department.

“People are getting upset over things that aren’t even being considered,” she said after reviewing the police petition. “There are many versions, and some of them aren’t factual.”

“I support all our public safety staff. Services like fire, police, water, sewer and DPW,” Ward 2 Councilor Bill Pealer said. “They are needed every day and all day and night. I also support and am listening to our residents and taxpayers. These are hot topics, and hot topics require cooler heads to prevail.”

Times reporter Steve Buchiere contributed to this story.

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