Court cases permit changes in police discipline
I wanted to respond to Allen Hopkins' February 27 Feedback letter, specifically addressing two issues: 1) the Rochester Police Locust Club's involvement in the development of the Police Accountability Board proposal, and 2) the collective bargaining agreement and the Taylor Law.
Mr. Hopkins is incorrect that no effort was made to include the Rochester Police Locust Club in the development of the Police Accountability Board proposal. I cannot speak for City Council, but I can offer my perspective as a member of the PAB Alliance. In the summer of 2017, the PAB Organizing Committee (now the PAB Alliance) met with Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo twice with the explicit intention of determining problems with the proposal from the police union's perspective and possible changes.
At neither meeting did the police union offer any kind of substantive or nuanced response to the PAB proposal. Three areas were generally touched on in our meetings: more transparency from the police department, the chief of police not having the final word on discipline, and better training for the Professional Standards Section (internal affairs for the department). City Council's legislation addresses at least two of those areas.
Fast forward to the start of 2019. Two City Councilmembers told me that they had reached out to the Police Locust Club about the PAB over a year ago and received no communication on the issue. There was no discussion or even a document to put up against the PAB proposal.
Had the police union done that, the possibility of them being at the table might have increased markedly. The Locust Club cannot simultaneously refuse to participate in the policy-making process and claim a lack of representation at the table. The Alliance's invitations to collaborate demonstrate that the community did not exclude the police union from the discussion. Rather, the union chose not to comment on the issue, either publicly or privately. It seems that only in the 11th hour does the police union cry foul.
The second issue I want to respond to is the collective bargaining agreement and the Taylor Law. Generally, while Civil Service Law and the Taylor Law require that public employers "negotiate collectively with such employee organizations in the determination of, and administration of grievances arising under, the terms and conditions of employment of the public employees," there is an exception.
As recently confirmed in City of Schenectady v. New York State Public Employment Relations Board, the court held that "the Taylor Law prevails where no legislation specifically commits police discipline to the discretion of local officials. However, where such legislation is in force, the policy favoring control over the police prevails, and collective bargaining over disciplinary matters is prohibited."
In Rochester, the Public Safety Commissioner was legislated the power to discipline police in the 1930 City Charter. In support of its decision in Schenectady, the Court cited Patrolmen's Benevolent Ass'n of City of New York v. New York State Public Employment Relations Board, which held: "The New York City Charter and Administrative Code... state the policy favoring management authority over police disciplinary matters in clear terms." The court held that the police commissioner was put in charge of disciplinary matters as a point of public policy, well before the Taylor Law was enacted and because of this, matters of discipline were prohibited from collective bargaining.
In Schenectady and in Patrolmen's Benevolent Ass'n of City of New York, the New York State Court of Appeals allowed cities to change their disciplinary processes, and in Schenectady to transfer power from the police commissioner to others, despite the Taylor Law and despite conflicting collective bargaining agreements.
If Schenectady and New York City can do it, so can Rochester.
New threats from nuclear arms
On July 7, 2017, nuclear-weapons states and their allies, led by the United States, boycotted negotiations at the United Nations where 120 other nations adopted a treaty banning nuclear weapons. This disinterest in nuclear disarming does not bode well for our future.
Even after the end of the Cold War, our nuclear weapons remain on trigger alert. Daniel Ellsberg, before his expose of the Pentagon Papers, had been a nuclear weapons planner for the Air Force, with the highest security clearance. His recent book, "The Doomsday Machine," based on vast experience and expertise, reveals secrets that neither the public, members of Congress, or high-level government officials know or even suspect.
For one, our nuclear arsenal has never been meant as a deterrent. Our strategic contingency plans, constant from the days of President Eisenhower, have been to decapitate Russia's central command and destroy most of its nuclear weapons before it could damage the US. Even now, the US refuses to pledge to a no-first-use agreement signed by almost all other nations. Such a US first strike would not only kill an estimated 500 million people but would result in a global nuclear winter, leading to omnicide. This shows how delusional, illogical, immoral, deranged, and criminal such planning is.
Another frightening revelation is that in order to retaliate from a nuclear attack that destroys our central command centers, the decision to launch nuclear weapons has been delegated to many subordinate commanders. The president's "football" with the nuclear codes is a myth designed for public consumption; there is no single finger on the nuclear button.
Ellsberg concludes that both political parties and the major institutions that support militarism, American hegemony, and arms production and sales benefit from the status quo and are inordinately powerful. Only informed, dedicated, and resolute citizens can eventually prevail. I highly recommend starting by reading Ellsberg's book, "The Doomsday Machine, Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner."
The possibility of ending life on earth due to man's folly is strong. Sorry for the unpleasant news, but please become informed. As Martin Luther King Jr. noted, "we have a choice today of nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation." King's "fierce urgency of now" calls for strong voices, strong hearts, and a commitment to end this nuclear madness. Please be a force for peace and speak out.
PETER R. MITCHELL