At the December 5th City Council meeting, City Councilor Mark Gramling provided an update on the public relations efforts of the Geneva Community Compact, revealing that the Compact Committee is continuing to offer nothing of substance in response to the community’s repeated calls for police accountability over the past decade.
Gramling’s briefing came on the heels of a September Community Compact event that was billed as a forum for the Compact Committee to update the public on their efforts to improve police/community relations. More than half of those in attendance at the September meeting were city officials, police officers, and Compact Committee members, with the rest made up of city residents who chose to attend.
According to the minutes from their monthly meeting in October, the Compact Committee did not consider the September library meeting particularly successful, and the Committee plans to make changes to future taxpayer-funded public forums that will further limit community participation.
And just like at every other taxpayer-funded Community Compact policing “forum,” residents in attendance at the September library meeting were told:
- what they could and couldn’t say during the event.
- that they were being “adversarial” towards the police when they questioned the validity of some assertions by the committee.
- that directing legitimate questions or concerns toward the police could result in the police withdrawing their participation in the Compact.
The ten-member Community Compact Committee, which includes two members of City Council and the Chief of Police, have hosted a handful of tightly controlled public “forums” that amount to little more than expensive publicity stunts where repeated calls for police accountability are ultimately ignored. Although most Compact Committee members and a large segment of the community support a civilian review board, Police Chief Mike Passalacqua does not believe one is needed.
Geneva Community Compact Committee Facts
- The Compact Committee members were appointed and do not have term limits.
- The Compact Committee is not a city board or commission, or a public body.
- The Compact Committee does not advertise their monthly meeting dates, does not allow public input during their monthly meetings, and have no public oversight because they are not an official government committee.
- The Compact Committee is funded by the city of Geneva in the amount of $15,000 annually, and has made city budget recommendations for police department programs and trainings over the past two years. All of their recommendations have been approved by city council, and will cost taxpayers more than $200,000 by 2023.
Is there any evidence that the trainings recommended by the Committee will result in improved policing. Will the recently adopted body worn cameras will not improve transparency and accountability?
Upon close examination of these questions and more, it’s apparent that the Community Compact is nothing but a public relations campaign done to placate residents and to generate “good” public relations for the city and the police department. The Compact continues to ignore the most pressing needs of the community and refuses to take any authentic steps toward increased accountability while costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We All Have To Change”
On September 18th, the Community Compact hosted a forum at the Geneva Public Library to update residents on the work of the Compact, including their progress on developing their Compact Action Plan to be unveiled in 2019.
Several City Councilors, City Manager Sage Gerling, Chief Passalaqua and Lt. Jeff Potter of the Geneva Police Department, City Manager Sage Gerling, members of the Community Compact Committee, and approximately 10-12 residents attended the meeting, although not everyone stayed until the end.
Among the handouts for attendees was a summary of the April Fair and Impartial Policing forum, plus the Compact’s goals in response to the forum. During the April event, policing expert Noble Wray stated that a civilian police review board “with teeth” would be the most effective path toward police reform and accountability. The handout defined three “action priorities” based on the results of the forums, but downplayed the residents’ calls for a review board as something that was “also discussed” or to be considered under “other best practices for police.”
Compact Committee member Victor Nelson opened the meeting by telling attendees to refrain from asking any questions about the police training exercise that took place at a north end city-owned zombie house at the same time dozens of children were walking home from school that took place thirteen days earlier. Mr. Nelson was unable to remember where the exercise was held, saying “I think it was on Lewis Street,” before City Clerk Doris Myers noted that the incident occurred on Genesee Street. Mr. Nelson further stated, “This is just the one situation we can’t discuss.”
Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua began his comments by speaking about recent efforts to improve diversity in hiring at the police department, before speaking about the recent adoption of a body worn camera pilot program at the GPD.
The chief expressed optimism that a budget request to pay for individual cameras for every officer would be passed for 2019, saying:
“They (body cameras) hold the police accountable for sure and they hold the people we’re trying to serve accountable, too.”
Not mentioned during the Chief’s remarks was the full cost to taxpayers for the body cameras.
Body camera purchase and data storage will cost approximately $66,000 for the first year, and over $30,000 per year each of the following four years, for a total of more than $186,000 over five years.
The Chief and the Committee were then asked about the body camera policy. While body cameras can help improve police accountability, many experts insist that the body camera policy is more important than the cameras themselves because the policy dictates transparency and fairness related to making the footage available to the public and defendants.
“The policy is drafted, it’s not in stone yet because we’re still in the pilot phase. Axon (the body camera manufacturer) requires a policy. We’re an accredited agency; there are different chiefs who do our reaccreditation and compare our policies. Once this policy is drafted, it doesn’t get finalized until it gets looked at by a number of different people.”
“Attorneys will be involved. It’s not just something that I make up.”
It’s important to note that no one implied in any way that the Chief was planning to “make up” the body camera policy all by himself.
When asked if any civil rights experts, such as the NYCLU, or community members would be involved in the drafting of the policy, the Chief replied, “I don’t know outside of city officials, accreditors, and attorneys who we would involve. I’m open to talking to other entities about the input they have for the actual policy.”
Members of the Community Compact Committee were recently given a draft of the body camera policy, so they can provide suggestions for changes. However, the draft policy is not available to the public, nor has the public been told anything about the review process for the policy. It is also unknown whether the final policy has been approved, when it might be approved, or whether the public will be allowed to see it before it’s approved.
Later, when one resident expressed disagreement and frustration with Passalacqua’s assertion that body cams would automatically increase accountability, Passalacqua responded, “I don’t know why it has to be adversarial.”
After an attendee asked why a civilian review board was hardly mentioned in the handout when an expert hired by the city recommended it, Passalacqua was asked about his position on a civilian review board, and responded:
“My opinion is that a review board is not needed here based on my 15 years here with citizen complaints, I don’t feel like that’s needed. There are obviously other voices in the picture – my opinion is that one is not needed.”
Several Compact Committee members then stated their support for a civilian review board, leading to one resident commenting:
“There are lots of arguments for a police accountability board, but the only (argument against it) on the table is because the chief doesn’t want one. If that’s the reason, that’s important.”
Another resident said, “One of Noble (Wray)’s recommendations is civilian review and it’s not on here (the Compact Committee handout). If there is an issue there should be an independent body. There is no way the police can be unbiased when there’s another police officer. We need to get someone in here like the NYCLU.”
The meeting then moved to a presentation from the Compact on hiring, prompting more discussion.
The final exercise saw attendees break off in groups to discuss ideas for a new committee consisting of residents who would be involved in the city’s hiring process, another effort trumpeted by the Compact Committee which does not address police accountability in any way.
City Manager Sage Gerling gave a final statement to close the meeting:
“If our mission is to change the police department, we’ll fail. We all have to change and what I see from everyone, our hearts are all in this.”
“It is on all of us to change, to be with each other.”
“We won’t always agree. How do we relate to each other? How do we communicate? We will lose the police department if we don’t work with them.”
Some residents who showed up to the meeting because they want to see abusive police officers held accountable found Gerling’s words to be insensitive at best.
When people are told that they need to change in order for police to stop abusing them, it’s a message from the Community Compact and the City of Geneva that protecting the reputation and feelings of the police department is more important than protecting residents from abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the police.
Compact Limits Future Public Participation
On October 16th, the Community Compact met and discussed the September 18th library forum. The meeting minutes show that the committee was not pleased with the September event, and made plans to limit future participation in their community forums so that they “don’t allow such a small group of people to get in the way of our (the Compact Committee’s) goals.”
Citizens have been asking for more police accountability and a civilian review board since at least 2011, and the subjects have been discussed at every public forum hosted by the Community Compact. The claim that only a “small number” of people in the city want the Compact to address police accountability is untrue. At least half of the residents who showed up at the library forum asked questions about accountability.
It was suggested that the Compact should not stop community outreach, but should no longer invite the general public to their forums, instead doing “targeted conversations similar to focus groups with different subgroups in the community.”
This new format would allow the Committee to “narrow the invite list, and possibly consider using a talking piece, ground rules and possibly a facilitator to create a safer space where people can speak honestly and be heard.”
Do attendees who openly disagree with the Compact Committee during a public forum at the library make residents feel “unsafe?”
Perhaps Geneva Police are the ones who feel “unsafe” and unable to “speak honestly.”
It bears repeating that the “naysayers” who showed up at the library meeting absolutely “came to the table” with “solutions” to the “problems” they spoke about.
Those who had concerns about the body camera policy suggested ways to help ensure that the approved policy was transparent and fair. Those who expressed concerns about police accountability suggested a citizen review board to solve the problem.
Residents of Geneva should be deeply concerned that anyone on the Compact Committee would choose to smear residents who are calling for police accountability by claiming that they are “naysayers” who “just want to complain,” offer no solutions and don’t want “change or improvement.”
It’s equally unsettling to find out that someone on the Compact Committee stated that they don’t want to “participate in a forum like that in the future,” where uncomfortable questions about accountability are asked by informed residents.
It was even suggested that the Committee only invite residents who are “committed to partnering with the GPD” to the Compact’s taxpayer-funded public forums.”
The Community Compact, with an annual budget of around $15,000 paid for by City of Geneva taxpayers, is planning to limit public participation in their taxpayer-funded community forums because they don’t want the public openly questioning the Compact or the police department on issues of accountability.
And unless you are “committed” to “partnering with the GPD,” you might not be welcome at future Compact forums.
Gramling Says Some Officers Are Failing To Assist Residents With Police Complaints
Improving the police complaint process has been a goal of the Compact since 2011, but the only “changes” in the process from eight years ago are a cynical new “program” featuring volunteer “complaint resource assistants” to help residents file complaints, and complaint forms being made more readily available.
According to the minutes from the November Compact Committee Meeting, new updates will be made soon to the police complaint process, including an effort to communicate to residents “the distinction between making a complaint and actually filing a formal complaint.”
This would imply that residents are making complaints about the police, but those residents are unaware that they need to complete a form in order to officially file their complaint, so their complaints aren’t being heard.
This points to only one possible scenario:
Residents are giving their complaints to city officials or police officers, and those city officials and police officers are failing to tell those residents that they must fill out a form to make an official complaint.
During the December 5 City Council meeting, City Councilor-At-Large and Compact Committee member Mark Gramling explicitly described a scenario he says has happened to “a lot of folks,” where a resident has gone to the police department, given a verbal complaint, but were not given a form to file an official complaint:
“A lot of folks, they may not know fully that there is a complaint form. Folks have called me, and I think I’ve expressed this before, they don’t realize there’s an actual form.
So when they come to the police station they may talk to an officer and they think that’s their complaint, or their way of giving a complaint. But there is a formal complaint, and we’re updating those processes to get to the community, and get them educated about that as well.”
According to Gramling, there are people who go to the police department to file a complaint, and the police aren’t informing those people about the actual process to file a complaint. Residents are walking out of the police station believing that they have filed a complaint.
In response to this problem, the Compact Committee is NOT calling for those officers to be held accountable.
Instead, the Compact Committee is calling for spending more taxpayer dollars to increase efforts to teach residents how to file an official complaint.
Later in 2019, when the Community Compact puts out a press release to breathlessly unveil their “updates” for the police complaint process, we can all be assured that whatever “changes” are made, they will not require the police to address their own conduct in any way.
Fair and Impartial Policing Training – Still No Evidence That It Works
An update from the October 2018 Compact Committee Meeting Minutes reveals that the director of Fair and Impartial Policing, Lorie Fridell, continues to be unable to provide any data or documentation proving that the Fair and Impartial Policing training results in better policing.
$10,000 in taxpayer money was used to bring FIP training to the police and the Geneva Community on April 30-May 1, 2018. While implicit bias training is certainly important and beneficial for everyone, the company that provides this training is unable to provide any evidence that the training improves policing.
When the Compact boasts about the FIP training as one of their “accomplishments,” it’s important to note that the training might look great on paper, but has not been shown to have a positive impact on police behavior.
It should also be noted that the two-day Fair and Impartial Policing training was only made available to “city staffers and selected community members.” It’s unknown what criteria was used to select the community members who participated in the training.
Compact Looks To Failed Review Boards To “Help” In Geneva
Gramling also reported at the December 2018 council meeting that the Compact had consulted with individuals from two ineffective and harmful “civilian review boards” currently operating in upstate New York: Cheryl Hayward, from the Center for Dispute Settlement and Rochester Civilian Review Board, and Lieutenant Tom Kelly, from the Schenectady Civilian Police Review Board.
Both of these “review boards” have been heavily criticized in their respective communities, and are clear cases of how to enable a “review board” that has no power to improve policing and exists solely to give the public the impression that something is being done to address police misconduct.
As the people of Rochester, NY have learned, an institutionalized, police-and-government-approved “civilian review board” can be ineffective and harmful to the community it is supposed to serve. The Rochester Civilian Review Board is a shining example of how a so-called “citizen review board” can become so politically entrenched that it can serve to nurture a police culture of excessive violence and no accountability for decades. Geneva doesn’t have that kind of time and it’s critical that we don’t follow the same path as Rochester:
From 2002 to 2015 only 2 percent of civilian allegations of “excessive force” have been “sustained” — or found to be likely true — by the department’s police chief while 5 percent were upheld by the Civilian Review Board.
From 2008 to 2013 the Rochester Police Department’s Professional Standards Section (the PSS, which is the equivalent of an internal affairs division) did not uphold any civilian complaints of unnecessary use of force.
During the 14 years the report analyzed, the “harshest penalties meted out to the police officers for sustained complaints of excessive use of force were six suspensions.”
The Rochester Civilian Review Board has been such an abject failure, it was announced last week that it is slated to be replaced by a review board that can actually address police misconduct.
“The Rochester City Council in New York introduced a draft bill this week that addresses this fundamental problem. The bill would create a civilian-controlled Police Accountability Board with the power to investigate complaints from residents and to discipline officers who the board determines have abused people. Rochester would be the first municipality in New York State — and one of just a handful in the country — with a civilian board that has the power to discipline officers.”
The reason that the City of Rochester is on the verge of creating an historic police oversight system that truly empowers the people is because of a years-long, sustained effort by community activists to create the Police Accountability Board.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, an unelected, taxpayer-funded, de facto quasi-organization in charge of police reform is ignoring the community’s cries, and instead is looking to outdated, failed models of so-called “civilian review boards” to pacify those who are calling for change.
Is this the “progressive” police department that Chief Passalaqua promised?
Meanwhile, the Schenectady Civilian Police Review Board has been under fire for years for failing to truly address the needs of the community:
“Community members at a Wednesday night forum on police and race relations called for strengthening Schenectady’s police review board, which looks into complaints about officer behavior.
They said the board lacked the resources and authority to implement serious change and lacked the standing or perceived independence to draw out serious complaints from the parts of the city most affected by daily police interactions.’
“It’s important to have a review board, but it’s not important to have a review board that doesn’t have the resources to implement any of the recommendations they have,” said the Rev. Horace Sanders, who hosted the forum at Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church. “It doesn’t help to have a review board in name only.””
Consulting with representatives of these two failed “review boards” proves that the Compact Committee is not interested in pursuing real police accountability. Rather, they are showing a willingness to learn how to adopt policies that will serve to improve the public perception of the police while doing nothing to protect the victims of police abuse. This is dangerous and harmful to our community.
The Compact Is Failing
Aside from the Fair and Impartial Policing forum facilitated by Noble Wray, the Geneva Community Compact’s public forums have seen a steady decline in attendance over the last year. The reason is clear: the public has lost faith in the Compact to address police accountability in a meaningful way, and the public simply isn’t interested in, once again, showing up to a public conversation with the police only to have their concerns acknowledged, but ultimately ignored.
It’s true that in the final signed agreement of Geneva Community Compact, there is no mention of a civilian review board among the priorities of the five-year Compact. But it’s not as widely known that former Geneva Police Chief Jeff Trickler was unwilling to sign the Compact agreement until a section calling for moving toward establishing a civilian review board was removed.
Now, we have a new “progressive” chief, and he’s holding the same line as his predecessor on citizen oversight of the police department.
Many of the community members who serve on the Compact Committee are working hard to address police reform in the best way they can, considering the narrow set of goals laid out in the Compact.
But the overall social effect of the Compact is that it provides a public relations shield for the police department because the Compact refuses to address police accountability and barely acknowledges that police misconduct even exists. And this hurts the community because it allows the police and city to “look good” in the news, while officers are allowed to continue interacting with the public in the way they always have.
This is why the Compact is failing. Any efforts to improve relations between the police and community simply will not work if the reality of police misconduct is never openly addressed.
Because the reality of police misconduct is a forbidden topic of discussion at the Compact’s community forums, people are no longer coming to those forums.
If a resident is going to leave the house and go to a meeting because they don’t like the way the police are acting in Geneva, they should know by now that going to a Community Compact forum isn’t going to make any difference.
In Rochester, it took an alliance of local community organizations and residents coming together to fight for a Police Accountability Board. Perhaps it’s time for concerned Geneva residents to stop giving any energy to the Compact, and start pouring their energy into a real, community-led movement for change.
The Community Compact is not accountable to the people, so why should they care about the police being accountable to the people?