Police Accountability Board seeks full-time leader

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The Police Accountability Board has launched its search for a full-time executive director.

The call for a new leadership comes after a month-long period of outreach to both city administration and the community  which included forums and a survey on skills.

“The input from the community has been very important for us when searching for our full-time director,” said Larry Knox, the PAB board chair, at a recent public meeting. “And we definitely want to thank (interim director Sherry Cowart-Walker) for putting in more time than we promised her.”

The recruitment materials from WBCP outline the ideal candidate as someone with experience “in both civil and human rights, specifically with regards to law enforcement and community relations.” In line with that description, a law degree with a license to practice in New York or an advanced degree in public administration or criminal justice are listed as desired qualifications.

The job will require candidates to have or obtain certification from the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement within two years of hire. Being a current city of Rochester resident or establishing city residency within one year of hire is also required. First consideration will be given to applicants who apply by April 9, with a series of interviews during May.

Beyond overseeing PAB committees and investigations, the position also includes a broader and more nebulous responsibility of building a positive culture within the organization, with local government and the Rochester Police Department.

“This positive culture will also focus on building effective relationships, mending bridges, and building trust between the PAB, community, council, and the police department,” the description reads.

After being overwhelmingly voted in favor of in 2019, the PAB suffered a series of public and messy controversies. First, the top leadership positions filled by Conor Dwyer Reynolds and Shani Wilson were vacated due to sexual harassment claims in November  2022.

Then, accusations of a hostile work environment created by acting manager Duwaine Bascoe were followed by an exodus of employees. Bascoe resigned from his position in February 2023.

Following those incidents, Walker-Cowart’s appointment in December 2022 did lead to some stabilization in leadership. A number of items, including the most recent investigation into use of force policies on juvenile offenders, were released under her leadership.

Even with that progress, the open executive position mirrors other staffing gaps still experienced by the PAB. While all city districts are expected to be represented on the board, the East District Council seat has remained open for more than a year despite consistent communication to Rochester City Council and the community.

A training director position currently is at the interview stage. That job is primarily responsible for the various trainings that PAB staff have to undertake for NACOLE certification.

“We really need to get someone in that position,” said Cowart-Walker. “Many people on our staff are doing more than one job, but we need someone doing that work specifically.”

This budget cycle, the board has requested more funding for staff from the council which PAB says is required to complete more of their work. For example, viewing many hours of body cam footage is needed for an upcoming investigation.

“We have a lot of work to do, but we need proper staffing and proper access to be able to do all that,” said Knox, also making reference to delays from the RPD in distributing data. “The staff is doing what they can, but there is more needed in order to do what the public expects.”

“When we bring in a new leader, we want them having everything they need, including the full powers that are voted in by the public in regards to our office,” he added.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

One thought on “Police Accountability Board seeks full-time leader

  1. If there was as much concern about the RCSD and education as there appears to be with the police accountability…..we would have a stellar educational outcome. What the public ought to be concerned about is expectation from the education. The school expectation ought to be a major concern, but it appears that a failing RCSD is simply accepted as the norm. Kinda sad.

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