Third-party review leads to RPD officer policy changes on use of force, juveniles


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester Police Department is updating two major policies following a third-party review of the department’s procedures and training programs.

A consulting firm was brought in last November to help determine the best practices for policing. According to RPD officials:

“The firm conducted a formal assessment of the Department’s policies, procedures, and training programs with consideration for current federal and state law, national best practices in policing, relevant legal considerations related to federal civil rights investigations, and police department consent decrees adopted by federal courts”

The two officer policies updated by the firm relate to use of force, and use of force for juveniles.

The reforms limit the amount of force used when making an arrest and de-escalation tactics. Officials say these policies go into effect immediately.

Use of Force Policy

  • A formal commitment to recognize and respect the value and sanctity of all human life. Members are expected to carry out their duties and act with the highest regard for the preservation of human life and the safety of all persons involved.
  • Replacement of “officer discretion” language with formal documented expectations of when use of force is objectionably reasonable, necessary, and proportionate.
  • Complete definitions related to use of force including, but not limited to, aggression, force, resistance, objectively reasonable, necessary force, proportional, totality of the circumstances.
  • A comprehensive list of prohibited use of force techniques includes, but is not limited to, chokeholds, various neck restraints, firing warning shots, or force used as punishment, retaliation, or based on biases.
  • Members are prohibited from utilizing certain levels of force on handcuffed or restrained persons, except under extenuating circumstances (further defined within the policy).
  • Members are mandated to use de-escalation techniques and tactics, when it is safe and feasible to do so, prior to engaging in approved use of force techniques. This includes a defined goal of gaining voluntary compliance of persons without resorting to the use of force to resolve situations without using force, whenever possible.
  • When the use of force is deemed necessary by the officer (as defined by NYS Penal Law 35) Members must act with due regard for the safety of all persons during any use of force, shall use the least amount of force necessary based on the totality of circumstances (defined in policy) and shall cease using any force once a person becomes compliant.

Use of Force for Juveniles Policy

  • A formal recognition that juveniles are still in their developmental and learning stages, and early interactions with law enforcement personnel can have a lasting impact on their perceptions of the legitimacy of the justice system and trust in law enforcement. This policy documents the Department’s expectations of its Members to comport themselves in a manner that will foster healthy relationships with juveniles and lay a strong foundation of trust between RPD and the community it serves.
  • Complete definitions related to juvenile use of force, restraint, and aid, including, but not limited to, what constitutes a “juvenile,” de-escalation, age-appropriate/developmentally appropriate, person legally responsible, and status offense.
  • List of prohibited use of force techniques for juveniles including use of chemical agents; use of an impact weapon (i.e., baton) to strike a juvenile; use of a Conducted Electrical Weapon (i.e., taser) against a juvenile unless the juvenile is assaultive, poses an immediate threat of harm to the Member or others, and there are no reasonable alternatives.
  • Prohibition against handcuffing of juveniles who the Member reasonably believes to be aged 12 and under unless the juvenile presents a danger to themselves or others.
  • If force against a juvenile becomes necessary (as defined in the policy), Members should use only the level of force that is necessary and proportional to the threat.

The City of Rochester is expected to release the report to the public late this year.

Four revised police policies went into effect earlier this year, including guidance on duty to intervene, a chokehold ban, mental hygiene detention, and de-escalation.

Police additional reform efforts for the department include:

  • Critical Incident Briefings – The department’s goal is to get information out to the community as soon as possible when a critical incident occurs. In February, RPD released the CIB, a new video format outlining aspects of a critical incident and what the viewer is seeing, why certain tactics were used, etc.
  • Protest Response Plan – RPD spoke to members of the community that participated in last year’s protests. A plan was then developed to highlight communication between the community and the police department, which was implemented in January 2021.
  • Officer Training – A full evaluation of officer trainings was recently conducted, with the need for additional educational programing on compassion fatigue, de-escalation, mindset training, race relations, pediatrics, ethics, leadership, crisis intervention, excited delirium and mental and behavioral health response identified. The Robert E. Craig Institute for Ethical Leadership was launched on April 28, 2021, more than 60 officers taking part in the first training on May 13, 14, 2021. During FY 2021-2022, and annually thereafter, additional trainings will be executed, including Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).
  • Chief’s Advisory Board – A group of professionals that provides knowledge and expertise as needed to address areas that impart the message of the need for trust and transparency by members of the Department. A full list of Advisory Board members is in the Chief’s 90-Day Progress Report.
  • Violence Reduction Initiatives – On March 25, 2021, the Chief announced additional foot and bike patrols and anti-violence details to target locations where violent crime is most prevalent, based upon real-time data and analytics. Section captains also developed individual anti-violence strategies for their sections. An additional violence reduction initiative was initiated that involved working with federal partners to target violent gun offenders. RPD has met with numerous community and faith-based groups, including RocACTS, to identify opportunities for the community to assist in reimagining safety and community relationships. As a result, a collaborative draft action has been developed that will be executed throughout FY 2021-2022 through the Community Affairs Bureau.

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