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Yelling match ensues at Syracuse council meeting to amend Citizen Review Board

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Citizen Review Board Administrator Ranette Releford.

A Syracuse Common Council committee meeting turned into a yelling match Wednesday, over a proposal to amend the law governing the Citizen Review Board, which reviews allegations of police misconduct. The change was meant to ensure that the findings of the CRB would not be used in lawsuits against the city. 

At a packed meeting, Corporation Counsel Kristen Smith said the amendment is meant to bolster one piece of the CRB ordinance, already written into law, but gets overlooked in litigation, that CRB findings or decisions should not affect judicial proceedings. But CRB Administrator Ranette Releford said it’s frustrating for the CRB to be working with corporation counsel and the police for the past two years, to rebuild their relationship, only to have this amendment sprung on them at the last second.

“Any opportunity that you sit up here and try to limit what we have, or when you misunderstand what was written in the original legislation, it’s a gut punch," Releford said. "That doesn’t feel good. I’m not going to stand for, and I don’t believe the community is going to stand for, you to take anymore gut punches at this community that the police department already has.”

After councilors, CRB and city officials spoke, confusion ensued over whether the audience, filled with CRB supporters, would be allowed to speak. One person took over the mic, audience members and councilors yelled and eventually, most of the councilors stormed off.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
Steven Thompson tells the crowd he'll withdraw the amendment.

By the end of the meeting, Councilor-at-Large Steven Thompson announced he would withdraw the proposal, which drew cheers from the audience. He said a proper public hearing is likely needed. Thompson, who is stepping down at the end of the year, and is a former police chief, said he wanted to get this done before he left, adding that there might not be the stomach to do it afterwards.

Jeff Piedmonte, the police union president, supports the amendment to the CRB.

"I don't think decisions they make, should be allowed to be used against us, and cost the city hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars," Piedmonte said. "I think that's ridiculous."

The Citizen Review Board can only make recommendations to the chief of police, as to any disciplinary actions against officers. It's at the police chief's discretion, if any discipline is carried out.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.