On Tuesday, July 7, 2020, Geneva Believer sent five separate Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the City of Geneva, asking for the personnel records of five current and former Geneva Police officers.
Two days later, on July 9, 2020, a Geneva Police Department employee responded to the request, saying “I anticipate it will take us 90 days to complete,” an extraordinarily lengthy delay for a request that would normally take 20 days or less.
A ninety day delay would result in the officers’ records (including complaints and disciplinary actions) being withheld until October 5, 2020, just two days before the Geneva City Council is expected to vote on adopting a new law creating a Police Accountability Board.
Repeal of Civil Rights Law Section 50-a
Since 1976, New York’s Civil Rights Law Section 50-a had prevented the release of police personnel records to the public.
But on June 12, 2020, 50-a was repealed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, making those records available to the public for the first time in 44 years.
Now that the personnel records (including complaints and disciplinary actions) for all law enforcement officers in New York State have become available to the public, many municipalities are, unsurprisingly, receiving FOIL requests for these records.
GPD Blames Delay on Voluntary Furlough
The following response to Geneva Believer’s five separate FOIL requests was received on July 9, 2020:
I am in receipt of your FOIL requests asking for complaints, adjudications, claims and disciplinary actions relating to Officers Vine, Montesanto, Colton, Bendzlowicz and Choffin Due to the availability of staff to produce your reports (my counterpart is on furlough due to the Corona Virus), the amount of time it will take to gather the information and the scope of this request, I will need more than the 5 day turnaround time. I anticipate it will take us 90 days to complete. I am not able to guarantee this time, if we are able to complete it sooner, I will let you know, but please be advised if I need more time, I will also let you know. I appreciate your patience!
Geneva Police Dept
A lack of staff availability due to voluntary furlough is one of the reasons given for the delay.
However, back in June, when City Council approved voluntary layoffs of city employees to help mitigate the city’s financial losses due to COVID-19, it was stated that if those furloughed employees were needed back at their jobs, they would be required to return with three days notice.
During the June 1st City Council work session, City Manager Sage Gerling stated that the employees would be furloughed through the end of July, but that those employees would “have to be ready and willing to come back within 3 days notice if we, say, get a month into it and we need them back.”
Is the Geneva Police Department delaying their responses to FOIL requests for three months because of a lack of staffing due to a voluntary furlough? And if that’s the case, should the City ask that furloughed employee to return before the end of July?
All or Nothing?
In the past, the City of Geneva has responded to some of Geneva Believer’s FOIL requests by sending some of the records that were requested, while stating that additional records would take more time to locate before they could be sent. Eventually, all documents related to those FOIL requests were received.
This time, Geneva Believer sent five distinctly separate FOIL requests, and the GPD is refusing to release any records related to any of those five FOIL requests for the next three months.
As Community Conversation Begins on PAB, Are Police Records Being Intentionally Withheld?
On July 2, 2020, the Geneva City Council passed an historic resolution to establish a public hearing for a local law creating a Police Accountability Board (PAB) for the City of Geneva.
City Council is expected to vote on that law in early October:
- On August 5, 2020, during the monthly City Council meeting, a public hearing will be held to gather community feedback related to the creation of a Police Accountability Board. The first reading of the new PAB law will unveiled to the public, and suggestions for changes can be made.
- On September 2, 2020, during the monthly City Council meeting, a second reading and discussion by City Council is expected to take place, and additional changes to the law can be suggested.
- On October 7, 2020, during the monthly City Council meeting, City Council is expected to be voting on the final PAB law.
The October 7th vote is 91 days away.
Right now, it is critical that the people of Geneva are able to review all publicly and legally available information about the conduct of the members of the Geneva Police Department. The public must also be allowed enough time to read and analyze that information.
But at the moment, the Geneva Police Department doesn’t seem to want the public to see all of that information until a couple of days prior to the City Council vote.
If there’s ever been a time when police-related FOIL requests should be expedited, it is now.
If you believe that the community needs this information NOW, and NOT in three months, contact City Council and Police Chief Mike Passalacqua and let them know that the time is NOW to prioritize the collection and public release of the personnel records of Geneva Police officers so that the community (and City Council) can craft the best Police Accountability Board possible.