PAB questions police chief on protest policies, pepper spraying of 9-year-old

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan faced questions from the Police Accountability Board, about the department’s new protest plan in an oversight hearing on Thursday. 

The PAB board members also questioned the chief about the officer that handcuffed and then pepper sprayed a 9-year-old girl.

Earlier on Thursday, at the direction of Mayor Lovely Warren, the Rochester Police Department released additional body worn camera footage on the incident.

MORE | Family of 9-year-old pepper sprayed by police files notice of claim against City of Rochester, RPD

PAB Board Member Ida Perez: “Why should we expect RPD to deescalate a protest when they cannot deescalate a situation involving a child?”

RPD Chief Herriott-Sullivan: “I want to go back to the Clinton Ave. protest where a lot of people were upset, angry, rattling the gates, trying to breach them. There were no arrest, nobody was hurt and that’s exactly what were working toward. So I’m going to hold that up as an example.”

PAB Board Member Ida Perez: “But yet, they couldn’t do it with a 9-year-old?”

The chief gave no response before the group moved onto the new protest response plan.

The PAB members questioned the chief on every aspect of the plan from what defines a violent protest to the use of chemical weapons — all in an effort to ensure the new protest plan protect demonstration while allowing police to do their job.

A big concern voiced by some in the meeting — at what point to police decide if a protest is violent?

“How do you guy concretely define that?” PAB Board Member Danielle Tucker asked.

The chief responded saying, “We would define that as when’s someone’s life is in danger and a single water bottle being thrown I would not define that as someone’s life in danger. ” The chief is referring to an incident in the summer of 2020 when according to reports, police declared the protest dangerous and unlawful when a water bottle was thrown.

Other questions from the PAB members involved the use of force and although the chief said chemical weapons is a last resort, she noted it is used for protection.

“We have to have some options if we get into riotous violent behavior that’s what we have to be able to address but that’s always a last alternative.” 

When asked about how to keep a situation from escalating, the chief said, “We expect our officers to keep a certain tone and then only react to increase levels of violence.”

On Thursday, in addition to releasing additional body worn camera footage, Mayor Warren also announced the City of Rochester’s online database of disciplinary records is now available.

MORE| Disciplinary records of officers of the Rochester Police Department

50-a of the Civil Rights law shields police personnel records to the public. However in early June of 2020, the New York State Senate repealed 50-a along with passing another bill which requires the New York State Police to wear body cameras.

Previously, those records were accessible by filing a Freedom of Information Request. The new database will ultimately make access to those records without a FOIL request.

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