After a last-minute letter was sent to City Council by the Chief of Police, Council voted during an October 6th work session to allow an unlimited number of retired police officers to serve at the same time on the nine-member Police Accountability Board. Council also voted to require all PAB members to complete, within 6 months of appointment to the board, a 7-week “Citizen’s Police Academy” developed, scheduled and taught by the Geneva Police Department.
After eight Council meetings about the PAB totaling more than 13 hours over two months, and with feedback from hundreds of residents, the final draft version of Local Law 1-2020: Local Law Amending the Geneva City Charter To Establish a Police Accountability Board was expected to undergo a handful of changes during the work session, primarily changes to help limit the potential of litigation from police unions.
Instead, Council voted in favor of major, unexpected changes that, if implemented, will sharply reduce the PAB’s effectiveness and legitimacy by potentially placing nearly full control of the PAB into the hands of the Geneva Police Department.
SEPTEMBER 15 2020 – PROPOSED LOCAL LAW 1-2020 PUBLICLY RELEASED
After weeks of special council meetings, legal consultations with both the city attorney and an attorney from Hancock Estabrook, and public feedback from hundreds of residents, the City of Geneva released the final draft version of Local Law 1-2020: Local Law Amending the Geneva City Charter To Establish a Police Accountability Board.
SEPTEMBER 21 2020 – COUNCIL HEARS MORE LEGAL OPINIONS ON PAB
A special City Council PAB Work Session was held on September 21, two days before the scheduled Public Hearing on the Local Law. Tarana Riddick, Roscoe Jones, Shireen Barday and Naima Farrell from the Washington, DC office of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher attended the meeting to discuss the City’s PAB proposal. The attorneys provided their advice free of charge to the City.
According to City Manager Sage Gerling, members of the $1.6 billion global law firm had “worked with the Leadership Conference on Human Rights to publish a comprehensive policing report and toolkit, ‘New Era of Public Safety: A Guide to Fair, Safe, and Effective Community Policing,’ which was recently cited in an essay by President Obama.”
Early in the meeting, Riddick explained that the firm had analyzed “whether the proposed law is consistent with New York State Law, the Geneva City Charter and the collective bargaining agreement with the police union.” Riddick further stated that the proposed local law was largely “consistent” with those three areas.
During the 1-hour-plus meeting, the attorneys provided recommendations on changes to the proposed Local Law. The most significant of those recommendations were made to limit the potential for litigation, and Council indicated that they would implement those recommendations at a later meeting.
SEPTEMBER 23 2020 – PUBLIC HEARING: POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY BOARD LOCAL LAW #1-2020
The Public Hearing (watch here) began with Mayor Valentino announcing that 87 people had signed up to speak during the meeting. Due to the large number of participants, the Mayor emphasized that speakers should limit their comments to 3-minutes.
After nearly 40 minutes of comments from citizens, the Mayor announced that Christine Caputo Granich, an attorney from Council 82 representing Geneva Police Officers, would be speaking.
The union attorney was then allowed by Mayor Valentino to speak for nearly 16 minutes.
Caputo-Granich indicated that a Police Accountability Board in Geneva would be a significant financial expense to city taxpayers, pointing out that the Albany (NY) Community Police Review Commission Board has an annual budget of “upwards of $250,000.” (The actual Albany PRCB budget was $236,900 in 2019).
In the unlikely event that the Geneva PAB is funded at the same level as Albany’s review board, it would cost a relatively modest $31,800 per year.
The GPD’s budget for 2020 is over $3.5 million.
Chris Toole of Teamsters Local 118 (representing GPD command officers) offered a dramatic statement of his own, attacking City Council and offering conspiracy theories, false claims, and fear-driven misinformation.
First, Toole repeated the false claim that the creation of the PAB was “fueled by the agendas and hysteria of a few City Council members intent on dismantling the city’s police department.”
Then Toole warned that the PAB could be used as “a tool of vengeance and retaliation” and made the claim, without offering any factual data or evidence, that the city would be “overrun with a never-ending list of costs” from the PAB, declaring that “expenses will be put on the backs of homeowners and business owners in the City of Geneva.”
At a time when City Council has implemented voluntary furloughs and explored difficult questions about potential layoffs among the 132 current city employees, Toole went on the attack, claiming that “City Council has demanded that city workers in every division and department accept wage cuts, benefit reductions, and staff elimination. How can this council stand before their employees and tell them that sacrifices have to be made, family economies have to be ruined, and jobs have to be lost?”
In the face of unprecedented economic devastation and record unemployment across the country, Toole characterized council’s consideration of difficult but potentially necessary cuts to the city budget as reckless and harmful to “family economies”. It would appear that Toole is only worried about “expenses” to “homeowners and business owners” if those “expenses” create police accountability. And he only seems to care about the “family economies” of 132 city employees in a city of 13,000.
Since the July council meeting when the PAB resolution was passed, union representatives have repeatedly issued false and misleading statements, spouted conspiracy theories, and even compared City Council to literal “Nazis” for simply approving the resolution establishing a PAB.
Why is anyone still listening to the police unions?
Not to be outdone, Ward 1 City Councilor Bill Pealer provided his own performance featuring even more lies and conspiracy theories.
Pealer volunteered to give theatrical readings of a staggering 24 separate written statements apparently submitted by residents across the city (not just from Ward 1) who oppose the PAB.
Many of those statements seemed to follow a script, with some of the same phrases being repeated, word for word, in different statements ostensibly written by different people. And when misinformation, lies, and conspiracy theories are repeated, on the record, by a City Councilor, it lends legitimacy to those types of statements, something Pealer seemed eager to do.
October 5 2020 – GPD Chief Passalacqua Sends Threatening Letter to City Council
Since the resolution was passed in July to establish a PAB in Geneva, Police Chief Mike Passalacqua has said very little about the issue publicly. He didn’t provide any public statements specific to Local Law 1-2020 when it was released on September 15. He didn’t provide any public statement during the September 23 public hearing.
For 20 days, Passalacqua said nothing.
And then, on October 5, the day before City Council Work Session to consider changes to the existing proposed PAB law, Passalacqua finally sent a statement to City Council.
In the two-page letter, Passalacqua issued veiled threats of lawsuits related to CBA violations, suggested that he would refuse to provide documents to the PAB, and showed a preoccupation with preventing anyone deemed as “biased” from serving on the PAB.
The Chief’s recommendations included:
- All PAB members must undergo extensive training in “all areas of law enforcement,” including “police bias, use of force, emotionally disturbed/mental health crises, body worn cameras procedures, shoot don’t shoot issues, disciplinary procedures, CBA’s, no knock warrants, Geneva Police Department (“GPD”) general orders, police academy.”
- At least one retired law enforcement officer must serve on the Board, and anyone shown to harbor “animosity” towards police should be disallowed from serving. Anyone convicted of a felony and who has completed their sentence would be as “biased” as law enforcement officers.
- Unidentified “parameters” would be established to assure that any attorney on the Board will not have any “bias.”
- The GPD should have 60 days, rather than 30, to complete investigations into officer misconduct.
Passalacqua also claimed that the PAB would violate several current policies, and even warned that the city should “anticipate conflicts” while suggesting that he would refuse to cooperate with the PAB.
- The chief stated that officers being interviewed by the PAB “may violate Collective Bargaining Agreements (“CBAs”) and compromise investigation, imposition of discipline, and criminal prosecutions.”
- Passalacqua claimed that the current body worn camera policy “does not allow general searches for misconduct without specifying a particular incident,” again claiming that PAB access to body camera footage could “violate CBAs.”
- He stated that if the PAB wants to simply review GPD policies, they “will need professional guidance from an unbiased entity associated with law enforcement.”
- The chief warned that the City “should anticipate conflicts,” and offered an example of such a conflict: “PAB requests documents and Chief declines to provide.”
- In perhaps his most bizarre comment, Passalacqua stated that a specific attorney, John Corcoran of Hancock Estabrook, be designated as “Special Counsel to GPD.”
October 6 2020 – Council’s Surprise Changes To PAB During Work Session
After eight Council meetings about the PAB totaling more than 13 hours over two months, and with feedback from hundreds of residents, the final draft version of Local Law 1-2020: Local Law Amending the Geneva City Charter To Establish a Police Accountability Board was expected to undergo a handful of changes during the October 6 Council Work Session (watch here), primarily recommendations from Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher to help limit the potential of litigation from police unions.
Instead, City Council made two major changes to the PAB that could potentially allow the GPD and City Manager to have full control over what is meant to be a community-led police oversight board.
- Membership Requirements Changed
First, Councilor Pealer, who voted “no” to the original July resolution to establish a PAB and has made it clear that he does not support the measure, suggested changing the following section 15-3(1)(C):
No more than one (1) member of the Board at a time may be a former law enforcement employee with an agency other than the GPD or an immediate family member of a person formerly employed in non-GPD law enforcement.
Pealer made a motion to change this section to say that the PAB would “endeavor to include” no more than one member of the board who is a former law enforcement officer, or family of a former law enforcement officer. Ward 6 Council John Pruett seconded the motion.
The motion was carried by a 6-3 vote, with Ward 1 Councilor Tom Burrall, Ward 3 Councilor Jan Regan, and Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra voting “no.”
And just like that, the Local Law went from limiting the number of former law enforcement officers and their family members on the PAB to one, to literally having NO LIMIT on the number of former officers and their family members who could serve on the PAB at the same time.
This change was never suggested in any of the previous eight Council meetings for the PAB. In fact, the attorneys from Gibson Dunn and Crutcher told the Council there was no legal requirement to include law enforcement officers on the PAB at all.
But City Council wasn’t done taking authority and influence away from the PAB.
- Training Requirements Changed
During an earlier discussion, when the question was asked about prohibiting those convicted of felonies from serving on the PAB, City Attorney Emil Bove informed council that the City could not legally discriminate against people with criminal histories from serving on the PAB.
Council then voted to in favor of literally discriminating against people with criminal histories from serving on the PAB by requiring all PAB members to graduate from the “Citizen’s Police Academy” within 6 months after being appointed to the board.
Ward 4 Councilor Ken Camera made the motion, and Regan seconded, to change section 15.6.
So, what is the “Citizen’s Police Academy?”
The Community Compact was established in 2011, with the goal to “offer a means for improving the relationship between the African American citizens of Geneva, the police department, and city officials.” The Compact tasked the GPD with developing a curriculum and implementing a Citizens Police Academy.
The first Citizens Police Academy was in 2012, and the last in 2018, with a stated goal to “educate communities on law enforcement practices and further promote police community relations.”
According to a 2018 Finger Lakes Times article, citizens who wished to attend the academy “must have a clean criminal history. Background checks are performed on all who apply.”
As the city attorney stated, the PAB cannot legally discriminate against people with criminal histories from serving on the PAB.
But if PAB members with criminal histories aren’t allowed to attend the Academy, they can’t serve on the PAB, which is, by legal definition, discrimination.
For this reason alone, the Academy should not and cannot be a requirement for PAB membership.
In addition, the 2018 article states “Accepted applicants are required to attend every scheduled class.”
The 2018 Academy was a 7 week program, with weekly classes from 6pm-8:15pm, a nearly 16 hour time commitment.
So if a PAB member has a medical or family emergency and misses a class, they can’t graduate unless ANOTHER 7 week training is scheduled within that six month span.
And if a PAB member leaves the board unexpectedly during their term and needs to be replaced, the GPD would need to conduct a 7 week academy for that ONE new member within 6 months. And if another member leaves a month later, the GPD would be required to conduct yet another 7 week academy within 6 months.
The Citizen’s Police Academy is NOT an accredited or unbiased “training.” It is an informal public relations effort scheduled, organized, designed and taught by members of the GPD.
Because the Chief and the GPD are vocally opposed to the PAB, it’s not difficult to imagine that some police officers may try to manipulate, intimidate, or otherwise use their authority to influence the future decisions of those PAB members attending the academy at police headquarters.
Some community members and police officers have found the Academy to be a positive experience.
But it cannot be a requirement for anyone to serve on the Police Accountability Board, and it might actually be discriminatory and illegal.
But Council still wasn’t done.
Camera’s motion also stated that PAB members would be required to complete “other training identified by the City Manager within the first six months of their appointment.”
This gives the current and all future City Managers unchecked authority to require PAB members to undergo an unlimited amount of training within 6 months of appointment.
If a City Manager wants to cripple the PAB, they could require unreasonable, endless amounts of training that PAB members are unable to complete. The City Manager could also arbitrarily change the required training to make it easier for other PAB members to complete.
Council voted 8-1 to amend the training section of the Local Law, with Councilor Salamendra the only “no” vote.
And in one 2 1/2 hour meeting, City Council might have ended any expectations that the City of Geneva would establish a truly independent, civilian-led Police Accountability Board.
City Council will have another PAB Work Session on October 22, 2020 at 6pm.
Contact City Council TODAY and let them know that they cannot put forth this watered-down Local Law and expect the community to go along with it.