Police Accountability Board talks spike in Rochester violence, long-term plans

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — With Rochester on track to see a record-high number of murders for 2021, News 8 has spoken to law enforcement and various community groups on their approaches to stop the bloodshed. Friday, News 8 sat down with Conor Dwyer-Reynolds of the Police Accountability Board to hear their approach to combating the problem.

“Well look, this is absolutely unacceptable, we have to stop this wave of violence,” says Reynolds.

He says almost every summer there’s a spike in homicides. But as many have said, the current surge is unprecedented, but he feels the approach needs to change. “Are we having an evidence-based community-driven approach? Or are we just recycling ideas from the past that might not work?” says Reynolds.

As law enforcement has said, they need the public’s help to crack down on crime. Reynolds feels the PAB can play a role in that. 

“If we do our job of making the RPD transparent and accountable, that’s going to build trust in the community,” he says adding, if residents can feel the system is fair, that could mean more people will come forward after homicides to talk to police. 

Reynolds says this effort also needs to be broader than just Rochester. Targeted enforcement he says can also mean displacement of crime. “So if it gets out of the city, it can move elsewhere. That’s why you have to have coordination across law enforcement agencies.”

And coordination with community groups and services. He says residents are looking for that. He says things like place-based interventions (like adding lighting to streets) and more youth programs can help turn the tide on homicides. 

“We have to both make sure that the police department’s plan is the right one, and that there’s a broader system of support in the community,” he says. “We have to move past the rhetoric— towards a community-driven evidence-based approach.”

Reynolds says their immediate focus right now on staffing, so they can do some of the long-term work they’re planning. Those ideas are outlined in greater detail below.

  1. Helping Homicide Investigations by Building Community Trust in the Public Safety System. Last week, News 8’s Ally Peters interviewed recently-retired homicide investigator John Brennan about the wave of violence. Brennan noted that a part of RPD’s issue closing these cases is a lack of witness cooperation. We know some of that problem is rooted in a lack of trust of RPD. PAB’s success in its mission of making RPD’s work transparent and accountable can help build that trust. Don’t take my word for it — here’s what a recent article in Police Chief Magazine says: Civilian review boards can be successful if properly implemented, and once in operation, they can help build community trust with law enforcement, cooperation will increase, people will more readily engage in contacting the police with information, and neighborhoods will be safer.
  2. Holding RPD Command Staff Accountable For Using Evidence-Based, Cost-Effective Violence-Related Policies. Almost every summer, in the face of a spike in crimes/homicides, RPD rolls out a new violence prevention program. In 2012, under Chief Shepard, it was the “high visibility” approach of Operation Cool Down. In 2016, under Chief Ciminelli, it was a new gun court. In 2019, under Chief Singletary, it was beefed-up traffic patrols and “corner-clearing details.” Do we know if these strategies worked? What lessons were learned? What are the differences between these tactics and Chief Herriott-Sullivan has recently announced? PAB’s job is to ensure RPD policymakers are using evidence-based, cost-effective tools that allow police to effectively address violence.
  3. Bringing An Evidence-Based, Community-Driven Approach to the Broader Array of Violence Interruption/Prevention Programs. We all know police can’t be expected to address every problem driving this wave of violence. Rigorous analysis of current research shows that — alongside law enforcement strategies — place-based interventions (adding lighting to streets), peer-based anti-violence programs (things like Pathways to Peace), and youth support programs are critical tools in reducing homicide rates. The problem in Rochester is we haven’t taken a hard, evidence-based look at City government’s “big picture,” cross-department approach to reducing homicides. PAB will be hiring research and policy staff to perform that desperately needed analysis so we can shift resources from programs that don’t work to programs that do.

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