Leaders of the Center for Dispute Settlement, which operates Rochester's current police oversight process, believe the process needs major improvements. And they say they would support having a neutral, trained, outside investigator or agency handle investigations of civilian complaints against police involving shootings or personal injuries.
This is significant, because City Council is currently reviewing the police oversight process. Spurring Council's work: controversy around the treatment of Rochester teenager Rickey Bryant last summer and an April report criticizing the oversight process, prepared for two citizens group, Enough Is Enough and the Coalition for Police Reform. Bryant says officers responding to a crime report knocked him from his bike and beat him, seriously injuring him. Bryant wasn't subsequently charged.
City Council has subpoenaed records related to Bryant's case, and it's reviewing them now. This is the first time in the history of the civilian review process that Council has used its subpoena power.
As part of its broader look at police oversight, Council president Loretta Scott and Public Safety Chair Adam McFadden want Council to hire the Center for Governmental Research to study the review process. A vote on their request is on the agenda for Council's June 20 meeting.
Currently, when a civilian files a complaint about the actions of a Rochester police officer, that complaint is investigated by officers in the Police Standards Section of the Rochester Police Department. The police chief then reviews the complaint and the PSS investigation and decides whether or not to uphold the complaint.
The PSS investigations are then reviewed by the Civilian Review Board, trained civilians who serve on panels operated by the Center for Dispute Settlement. But the Civilian Review Board can't perform investigations on its own. It simply reviews the PSS investigations. The chief's findings are the official ones, not those of the Review Board.
In recommendations to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council in October, Sherry Walker-Cowart, then president and CEO of the Center for Dispute Settlement, and Frank Liberti, who now holds those positions, listed eight changes they believe should be made. Among them: that the Civilian Review Board's findings should be the official findings. The police chief would determine disciplinary or other administrative action.
CDS also recommended that police officials publicly report the results of investigations "to the extent allowable" by state law. (State law provides stringent privacy protections for officers' personnel records.)
The October CDS recommendations did not include having an independent body conduct the investigation. But in an interview last week, Liberti and Cheryl Hayward, director of CDS's Police and Community Relations Program, said the organization has previously recommended independent investigations into complaints against police involving a shooting or personal injury. And Liberti said they would support that change now – if investigators are neutral and if they are trained in such investigations and in police procedure and policy.
Council President Scott said last week that before Council makes a decision on reforming the current process, it will consider the recommendations of CDS, the citizens- groups' report, and other recommendations after the Center for Governmental Research completes its review. "It is time," she said, "for this exhaustive research."