The Monroe County Supreme Court judge presiding over a challenge to the recently-formed Rochester Police Accountability Board said he will issue his final decision in the case soon.
The lawsuit was brought by the city’s police officers’ union – the Rochester Police Locust Club – last year to stop the formation of the Rochester Police Accountability Board. On Election Day last year, 75 percent of Rochester voters supported a ballot proposition to create the board. It is the first in the state and one of the first in the country – to take the power to discipline officers out of the hands of the police department.
Most civilian review boards only have the power to make recommendations for what consequences officers should face, with final disciplinary decisions usually left up to the chief of police.
The lawsuit claims that the board is invalid because it violates the collective bargaining agreement between Rochester and the police union. But there is a longstanding recognition by New York courts, the state legislature, and municipalities that control over police discipline is a power that rightly belongs to local government officials.
We know what happens when a police department is allowed to police itself. Too often, officers aren’t punished when they abuse the people they are supposed to protect. A lack of accountability is not only unjust, it puts people’s lives at risk, because officers who repeatedly harm civilians get to keep their jobs.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to take the take the ability to punish officers away from police departments.
The police union’s lawsuit is a last-ditch attempt to reverse the progress and the promise of Rochester’s new law, and what they are asking the court to do would fly in the face of the thousands of voters who demanded that the years of abuse and lack of transparency from the department come to an end.
For years, residents of Rochester, particularly people of color, have had to sit and watch as police officers harass, harm, and kill their friends and loved ones, only to get a slap on the wrist and evade all forms of accountability.
To create better relationships between the police and communities, the city must undo the harms of the continued over-policing of neighborhoods and allow the board to function as voters intended. Police departments have operated in the dark for far too long, and it’s past time that we shine a light on their discipline practices.