9-year-old pepper sprayed by Rochester police: RPD chief, girl’s mother, former RPD Sgt. weigh in

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Eric Weaver is a former Sergeant with the Rochester Police Department and author of the book ‘Overcoming the Darkness’. He now spends his time giving talks across the country. His mission is to give law enforcement better tools when it comes to responding to things like mental health calls. 

“It boils down to training our officers,” says Weaver.

He said when police pepper-sprayed the nine-year-old girl, the situation might have had a different outcome, had they used better communication skills. 

“In the de-escalation class I have, I have a whole section on body language, eye contact, all those things. Introducing yourself, calling her by name…” says Weaver.

Weaver says for hundreds of years, humanity has punished people having a mental crisis. This he feels, was no different. 

“Mental illness is not a crime, it’s a medical condition,” Weaver says.

Elba Pope, the mother of the girl, has filed a lawsuit. Wednesday she said there needs to be more done in police ranks to have professionals ready to respond, especially when it comes to kids. 

“The first response should not be RPD. Obviously, RPD does not know how to handle these situations,” says Pope.

Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan condemned the incident saying the pepper-spraying “isn’t who we are as RPD.” She says the Person in Crisis team could start doing co-responses with police after their pilot program ends on June 30th. The need is there. 

“With how unfortunate this circumstance is, it’s still an opportunity to look at how we do business, what went wrong here, and how do we fix it,” says Herriot-Sullivan.

Weaver says across the country, police actually respond to mental crises tens of thousands of times a year, “and 99.9 % of them are wonderful, they do a phenomenal job,” he says.

But, he adds it just takes one call to not go well, that then shines all police in a negative light.

“Someone needs to go in and train officers above and beyond,” he says.

The police chief says when RPD makes a mistake, they own it. The police officers in this case are currently suspended or on leave. An internal review is currently being conducted.

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