Rochester, N.Y. – The recent arrests of Emily Good and Willie Lightfoot have prompted community debate about police misconduct.
Both Good and Lightfoot have called for an independent review board to look into complaints filed against police officers. Good was arrested while videotaping a traffic stop; the charge against her was dropped on Monday. Lightfoot was arrested while intervening in an arrest; he pleaded guilty to drunk driving, but maintained his innocence.
Rochester already has an independent review board. The Civilian Review Board, operated by the Center for Dispute Settlement, reviews all allegations of use of force and criminal conduct.
There are about 20 trained mediators who are randomly assigned to 3-person panels to review cases. All of the mediators go on ride-a-longs with police every year and get training.
Here’s how the process works:
• The Rochester Police Department’s Professional Standards Sections investigates the complaint.
• The findings are forwarded to the Civilian Review Board.
• The board decides if findings are sustained, unproven, unfounded, or if the officer should be exonerated.
• The police chief makes a final determination.
“We have a responsibility to review the case for fairness, thoroughness and timeliness,” said Sherry Walker-Cowart, President and CEO of Center for Dispute Settlement.
In 2010, the board reviewed 94 allegations of police misconduct involving 62 officers, according to the Civilian Review Board report to City Council.
The Civilian Review Board found:
• 41 percent of allegations unprovable, meaning there was insufficient evidence.
• 27 percent of allegations unfounded, meaning the alleged act did not occur.
• 23 percent of cases led to an exoneration of the officer, meaning the officer acted properly.
• 7 percent of cases were sustained, meaning the officer was found guilty.
The police chief and board agreed on 85 percent of cases.
The complainant gets a letter stating the outcome of the case. The findings are rarely made public, however. Civil service law prohibits publication of officers’ personnel files.
“We are not accepting a case to be sealed within the department,” said Edwin Goolsby, head of the Rochester NAACP chapter.
Councilman Adam McFadden said the findings can be confusing for citizens who make complaints. He also said the review process can take a long time. The average complaint takes 210 days.