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Geneva Police Review Board urges city to challenge court ruling against it

The former chair of the Geneva Police Review Board says she hopes the City Council will appeal this week’s court decision that the board is invalid.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

Jessica Farrell said at a news conference Thursday night on the steps of City Hall “People in Geneva were not yelling defund the police. They were not yelling abolish the police. I know, I was marching every day. People in Geneva were asking for transparency and accountability. I am very proud of the work that this board did over the last nine and a half months.” Farrell said to opponents of the board who have accused it of being anti-police “when I hear accusations that the PRB is out to get the GPD or to dismantle the GPD or any other such claim, I know that the person making that accusation hasn’t been watching the work we were doing, because nothing could be further from the truth. If you still believe those things, I urge you to go watch the videos of our meetings. They are available on the city’s YouTube channel. And so, if the PRB was set up for transparency and accountability, which the local law and the actions of the board showed were true—then why did the local police union sue the city about this law?”

State Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran ruled this week that the board violates the collective bargaining agreement between the city and its police union. The ruling came after a legal challenge by the union.

Related: Judge sides with police union, strikes down Geneva Police Review Board

The former members of the board released the joint statement below:

Statement of the Former Members of the Geneva Police Review Board in Response to Ruling by New York Supreme Court Judge Craig Doran on April 11, 2022

Former PRB Members Urge Geneva City Council to Appeal

Last year, on June 1, 2021, the police union which represents the majority of the officers of the Geneva Police Department (GPD) sued the City of Geneva over its recent passage of Local Law 1
2021. This law had established the Police Review Board (PRB), an exclusively civilian committee responsible for reviewing complaints from members of the public alleging that they had
experienced, witnessed, or were aware of misconduct by an officer of the GPD. According to the Local Law, at the conclusion of its review of a complaint, the PRB would provide its
recommendation for the disposition of the complaint to the Chief of Police. The Chief retained complete authority to determine the appropriate outcome for the complaint. According to the Local
Law: “The authority of the PRB is at all times limited to an advisory role.” And furthermore: “In matters of Police Discipline, the Chief maintains full authority to decide discipline subject to the City Charter, the New York State Civil Service Law, and Collective Bargaining Agreements between the City and the Officers.”

On Monday morning, Judge Doran, who was presiding over the police union’s case against the city, issued his ruling invalidating Local Law 12021 and thus by extension striking down the Police
Review Board.
At present, the officials of the Geneva City Council are reviewing their options with their pro bono legal representation from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and will determine how to proceed. They have several options including to appeal the judge’s decision and to request a stay of decision, which would prevent the judge’s ruling from going into effect while the case is appealed. The community members who composed the Police Review Board over the last several months strongly urge our City Council to take both of those steps.  Furthermore, we urge even those members of City Council who did not vote for the PRB’s creation to support an appeal. Whatever differences of opinion we may have, this city has an overriding interest in defending the integrity of the laws passed by the people’s elected representatives. LocalLaw 12021 deserves to have a full appraisal by the New York State court system, rather than have one single court ruling erase the hard work to which so many people in this city have contributed. This includes the hard work done by people who ultimately did not support Local Law 12021, but nevertheless made important contributions to the debate surrounding its creation and the language which was ultimately included in the local law. We urge the City Council to defend its lawmaking authority and appeal the decision.
Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

The PRB’s work would be important to Geneva’s future as it would bring greater transparency and accountability to how policing operates in our city and therefore foster a greater spirit of trust
between the community and the police department. The PRB’s complaint procedure was one that members of our community have asked for and want to use. As board members, we spoke to
numerous people in our community who have complaints that they planned to submit when the PRB process was finalized. These complaints are not hypothetical or hearsay; they are real, and they deserve to be heard. Knowing these complaints exist, our board was motivated to work tirelessly over the last nine and a half months by a desire to create a process that could be trusted by
community members and police officers alike to responsibly investigate complaints and produce fair 
recommendations that would be worthy of the Chief of Police’s consideration when he or she
reviews a case and determines discipline.
In our effort to create such a process, we underwent numerous trainings to learn about the rules and operating procedures of the Geneva Police Department, to learn about how best to conduct investigations responsibly and successfully, and to learn about the spectrum of diversity in our community so that our procedures and interactions with complainants and witnesses would be respectful and positive. We researched best practices from other similar bodies and modeled the documents that we created on what we learned and what we felt would be best suited for our particular community here in Geneva. We paid extra attention to making the materials accessible to members of the general public and to making sure that the whole process would be as transparent as possible. Through all of this, we worked collaboratively with GPD Chief Michael Passalacqua, with the city’s attorney, and with Erica Collins, our representative from the City Manager’s Office. We also actively encouraged community input, both generally at our monthly meetings and through community listening sessions. We worked on a budget for the future and designed our procedures so as to limit the cost of operating for the city.
At present, this budget would include paying for a post office box and printing. To date, by our calculation, the city has only incurred an expense of $120 which was for one training session with a former police officer and some minor printing charges for meeting materials. All other trainings were provided to the PRB for free or were designed and presented by PRB members themselves for their colleagues on the board.
DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

All of this work over the last several months shows that members of the public can be trusted to take seriously the responsibility of a board like this. It shows that members of the public are willing
to volunteer countless hours of time and that the project is not too large for a volunteer board. It shows that board members are worthy of the trust of both the community and the police
department and that the board can develop its procedures and operate in a way that encourages input from people on both sides of its procedures. And it shows that creating such a board will not
cost the city huge sums of money. This board showed that in reality, the implementation of the law is not fireworks and scandal but the quiet and determined operation of accountability.

After all of this work, we, the members who composed the board, are understandably discouraged by Judge Doran’s decision, but more than that, we are disappointed that tensions between the
community and the police department will remain unresolved and unaddressed because of this decision. We have faith that the government of the people of Geneva will prevail on appeal and
therefore we urge the City Council to challenge this legal opinion. We remain hopeful that we can get back to the work of making policing in this city more transparent.