On Wednesday, September 23rd Geneva City Council held the long-awaited Public Hearing on the Council’s proposed Police Accountability Board (PAB) law (Public Law #1-2020). The public hearing was held via Zoom.
It had originally been scheduled for August 5th but was delayed due to the Council’s inability to have the proposed law drafted timely. In the time between the original August 5th hearing date and Wednesday evening’s public hearing, the Council held several work sessions during which they redrafted the law. This work resulted in a revised proposed Public Law #1-2020, which the public was invited to comment on during Wednesday’s hearing. The version of the public law considered Wednesday was available at http://cityofgenevany.com/police-reform/.
Typically public hearings are relatively uneventful, particularly since many occur without the public making any comments at all. However, the PAB issue has generated significant input from the community. Wednesday, Mayor Steve Valentino indicated that a total of 87 community members had signed-up to make comments. Due to the number of commenters, Valentino asked speakers to limit comments to three minutes. However, the three-minute rule was ignored for Christine Kaputo-Granich, Associate General Counsel for the New York State Law Enforcement Officers Association, and Lucile Mallard from the Geneva NAACP. Mallard supported the PAB but spent the vast majority of her time off-topic, speaking about how the NAACP believes they were entitled to call for the resignation of Councilor Frank Galianese, III (At-Large) because of his threatening comments towards supporters of police reform.
Kaputo-Granich took nearly 15 minutes to explain the Union’s position on the PAB proposal. Although Kaputo-Granich stated that Geneva Police Department (GPD) officers wanted to assist the process and did not want to bog down the PAB public law proposal with litigation if it could be avoided, she expressed strong reservations about numerous elements of the proposal.
Kaputo-Granich first stated that she felt the law was far too broad to be practical. She believed that the PAB public law would establish a process that would require a separate department that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to operate. Kaputo-Granich argued that the PAB should be strictly limited to complaint reviews.
Kaputo Granich also made clear that the Union strongly opposed allowing members of the community with felony convictions to serve on the PAB. Kaputo-Granich argued that having convicted felons on the PAB would create a significant bias against officers. Kaputo Granich also stated that there should be minimum education and training requirements so that PAB members can understand the issues before them. She called for a requirement that PAB members graduate from the Citizens Police Academy within 6 months of appointment.
Kaputo-Granich also made clear that the Union would not accept a PAB that permitted anonymous complaints. Kaputo-Granich specifically argued that allowing anonymous complaints would violate the Constitutional due process rights of officers as anonymous complaints would prevent officers from being able to face their accusers. Kaputo-Granich also opposed allowing PAB members to file complaints on a complainant’s behalf and instead called for all complaints to be signed by complainants under penalty of perjury.
Finally, Kaputo-Granich stated that officer discipline cannot be within the scope of the PAB because the discipline process is already controlled by state law and collective bargaining agreements. Kaputo-Granich specifically stated that allowing the PAB to be involved in the discipline process could result in officers being on unpaid leave for unjustly long time periods.
The police officers’ union was just one voice opposing the PAB that was heard Wednesday. In fact, the majority of commenters Wednesday opposed the PAB. Most of the opposition was presented via letters that were read for the record. Many of the letters of opposition were presented by Councilor William J. Pealer (Ward 2).
Those opposed to the PAB argued that it simply was not needed. Community members often cited the statistic that although there were roughly 27,5000 calls for service last year, there were only 6 complaints, which they characterized as a 0.0002% complaint rate. Commenters argued, particularly since one individual submitted multiple complaints, Geneva simply did not have enough of a complaint problem to warrant a PAB.
Commenters opposed to the PAB also argued that the GPD, Chief, City Manager, and the City Council already had sufficient authority to deal with valid complaints without the need for a separate PAB bureaucracy. Commenters specifically stated that given the minimal problem in Geneva and the existence of adequate procedures, funding a PAB would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer money.
At times the comments got heated. Some commenters stated that the PAB proposal was being brought by a small minority of the community, many of whom were connected to Hobart and William Smith College. Some commenters even went as far as to say that the PAB proposal was really a trojan horse that is a “Marxist, Socialist, and Communist agenda” intended to dismantle the police department and overthrow Geneva.
Many members of the community also expressed concern that the PAB would exclude retired law enforcement officers and their families but would still permit convicted felons and their families to serve on the PAB. Commenters felt this arrangement would create a PAB that would be biased against officers.
Many commenters also argued that the Council should not be making this decision but should instead put the issue to a vote of City residents via a referendum. It was argued that this was particularly important because many who are opposed to the proposal do not attend Council meetings but should have their voices heard through a referendum process.
Ultimately the often-repeated refrain from those opposing the PAB was “We don’t want it, We don’t need it, and We can’t afford it”.
Although fewer supporters showed up to speak than have attended prior Council meetings, there were still many who spoke in support of the proposal. Those individuals commended the Council for their openness in listening to the proposals of the law firm Gibson Dunn on Monday, September 21, 2020, and their hard work in crafting a workable compromise PAB proposal. Supporters of the PAB continued to argue that no one should fear accountability. Many speakers referenced how many professions from childcare providers to bakers are held accountable by independent authorities. Speakers also spoke of the importance of having a fully civilian PAB and a PAB with full investigatory authority. Speakers also indicated that the PAB was not an attack on police, but rather was an attempt to improve the trust between the community and the police. Many speakers also stated that the Council should amend the PAB proposal to implement the recommendations of Gibson Dunn to limit the potential for litigation. Finally, many speakers called on the Council to ignore the “fear-mongering” of the Union and those opposed to the PAB.
Overall, Wednesday’s meeting was far less contentious than previous Council meetings regarding the PAB. However, the Council’s dysfunction continued to rear its head. Mayor Valentino at one point had to remind Councilors that they should be careful of their body language during presentations. This admonishment was likely directed at Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) who during presentations opposed to the PAB, often lounged on a couch with her eyes closed and appeared to ignore these presentations. Salamendra was also often observed making facial expressions during some of the presentations that were particularly critical of her or the PAB proposal.
The Council will next take up the PAB proposal at an October 6th, 2020 work session and at the October 7th, 2020, regular Council meeting.