ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Tuesday evening, City of Rochester Mayor Malik Evans renewed Rochester’s gun violence state of emergency for the seventh month in a row. Initially issued on July 21 for 30 days, it has been renewed every month due to the ongoing gun violence.

So what does the State of Emergency do? According to Rochester Police Department Lieutenant Greg Bello, the focus is less on bolstering RPD and more on the civil side of law enforcement.

“The days of throwing a big dragnet out and seeing what you catch in response to violence doesn’t work anymore,” he said, describing RPD’s approach to ongoing gun violence — and all other areas of law enforcement — as “intel-driven,” and collaborative with city government.

While there are several powers granted by a State of Emergency Proclamation, the only initiative actively in place currently is business closures.

Business Closures

Linda Kingsley serves as Corporation Counsel for the City, and has been working closely with the mayor on initiatives related to the State of Emergency. While there are a few avenues opened by the proclamation, the most prominent has been the closing of certain businesses.

“This is one of the things that we’re most forcefully using the gun violence State of Emergency for,” she said.

Of the eight-to-ten shutdowns enacted thus far, many are for legitimate businesses that have done something that is likely to create an environment that facilitates gun violence. For example, an establishment could be selling liquor without a license, or opening their doors after hours.

“We’re looking at locations where gun violence is likely to occur,” Kingsley explained. “If you see the staff duty reports every night like I do, you will see how many of the acts of gun violence have been where there’s a big crowd, and a big crowd where people are partying.”

While infrequent, business shutdowns did occur before the State of Emergency. However, the proclamation expedites the process.

“[The State of Emergency] is just one additional tool to allow us to immediately take action without advanced notice or without giving a hearing,” she said.

Kingsley and Bello both clarified: A small, personal party will not gain attention of either side of law enforcement. The issue is when those parties spiral out of control.

“We step when it becomes a chronic nuisance location — connected with violence,” Bello said. “That’s the main thing, violence is our focus.”

Shutdowns of out-of-control social gatherings have been happening since before the State of Emergency, Bello said, in a phenomenon born during the pandemic.

“In a way it was like speakeasies,” Bello said. “20-people gatherings have started exploding.”

He cited one example of a baby shower at the zoo in Seneca Park, which by the end of the night, had a dj, cover charge, and hundreds of people. RPD closed the event down after midnight.

“The unlicensed locations are an every-weekend issue, all over the county,” he said.

Drug Envelopes

There has also been another less aggressive, yet unusually high-profile tool employed during the State of Emergency: Bright pink “drug envelopes,” attempting to help curb the city’s drug problems. This initiative is not directly dependent on the powers issued to a government during emergencies.

“A hand-to-hand drug transaction is not at the priority level for our officers that are responding to 911 calls. So if an officer observes that, they may not have the resources in place to get three or four, five officers to help them come stop, detain that person, whatever it may be,” Bello explained.

Additionally, not every transaction that looks like a drug deal is one, necessarily, meaning that these suspected instances have been largely ignored when resources are diverted to more pressing crime. But with the State of Emergency, the city is able to do something — however small — with the information.

Here’s how it works: An RPD officers sees a vehicle interacting with a known or suspected drug dealer. The officer takes down the license plate, and shares it with the city, who then sends a letter warning the individual that they have been identified. The letter also contains resources to help fight drug addiction.

“We can’t arrest our way out of these drug problems,” Bello said. “It’s another effort to try to reduce the demand for some of these drugs as well, and frankly, get people the help they need.”

Kingsley said that a few dozen letters have gone out since the project started a few weeks ago. While she doesn’t anticipate being able to track success too closely, the letters did yield some interesting data:

“It is proving a point that we always suspected, which is that the drug trade is not driven primarily by city residents,” she said, citing the most recent batch of letters that went to Batavia, Geneva, Canandaigua, and Fairport.

While shutdowns are an incredibly noticeable campaign, there are other opportunities available as a result of the State of Emergency that have not yet been tapped.

These include the ability to fast-track purchases relevant to the State of Emergency, like additional security or metal detectors. Additionally, should the city have reason to believe a particular street or block was a significant source of danger, they could install a curfew, close the area to pedestrian traffic, and otherwise take measures to shut the area down.

There are several initiatives, like the pink envelopes, that do not require a State of Emergency to enact.

As for how long the State of Emergency will last, Kingsley said it will be renewed as long as deemed necessary by the mayor and other city officials. Rochester finished out 2022 with 303 shootings on the record, 63 of which were fatal. Three weeks into 2023, five shootings have taken place, one of which was at the door of a high school.

“The point of states of emergency is not to wait till the sky is falling around you, but to have it in place,” Kingsley said.

Sample Drug Envelope