Rochester voters apparently will have a say in how much power a new Police Accountability Board would have.
At its May 21 meeting, City Council plans to vote on establishing an independent Police Accountability Board with broad powers. As the legislation is written now, the board would have the authority to impose discipline on officers for misconduct. The police chief currently has that authority, and the proposed change would require a public referendum, City Council President Loretta Scott says.
The discipline proposal will be on the ballot in November, Scott says.
Council unveiled its Police Accountability Board proposal in January, and the discipline change is its most controversial provision. The Locust Club – Rochester police officers' union – is expected to sue over the issue. Mayor Lovely Warren is convinced that legislation transferring the authority to discipline officers for misconduct wouldn't survive a suit, and she has proposed her own legislation, which keeps discipline authority with the police chief.
Council hadn't initially planned to put the discipline section to a public vote, but Scott says she has been advised that state law requires it. New York's municipal home rule law says that a local law "shall be subject to a mandatory referendum" it if "abolishes, transfers, or curtails any power of an elected officer."
Under the City Charter, the mayor has discipline authority over all city employees, including police officers. That authority can be delegated, which it has been, through collective bargaining with the Locust Club.
All eight members of City Council have embraced the legislation, including the transfer of discipline authority, so it's expected to pass in May. But it's not clear whether Rochester voters would approve the discipline section – particularly since both the mayor and the police union are adamantly opposed to it.
If voters turn down the discipline change, the rest of the legislation would go into effect unless the police union sues.