9-year-old pepper sprayed by Rochester police: Why wasn’t new ‘Person in Crisis’ team called?

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — When police were called to the home on Avenue B, it was for a report of family trouble, possibly involving a stolen car. That’s one reason the city’s new ‘Person in Crisis’ team wasn’t dispatched instead.

“Unfortunately, this is not an incident in which the PIC team would’ve been called because of the initial call to 911,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren.

WATCH | City releases body camera footage of 9-year-old pepper sprayed, community leaders respond

The new PIC team was launched earlier this month, designed specifically to respond to 911 calls related to mental health crises.

“What is true is that the PIC team is at this time being dispatched to a certain set of calls that are going to in lieu of RPD. The co-response protocols are still under development,” said Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner of the city’s Department of Recreation and Human Services.

Police leadership says the 9-year-old girl was suicidal. The police union says it’s not the first time officers had placed her in handcuffs. That, they say, happened during a call last November.

But at no point on Friday did police request the help of experts in mental health emergencies. That fact will likely be part of the internal investigation now underway.

MORE | Police union says no rules broken, Chief said RPD doing internal review after police pepper spray 9-year-old

“This video, as a mother, is not anything you want to see,” said Mayor Warren. “It’s something we have to change. It’s not an option. We must change how we do business, how we treat people.”

City Council President Loretta Scott and Vice President Willie Lightfoot released the following statement:

“This morning, our community was made aware of the incident on Harris Street that occurred last night involving a minor and the Rochester Police Department. We have reviewed footage of the incident, and we are shocked, disappointed, and angered by the handling of this incident.        

This child was under extreme emotional distress and needed care from mental health professionals, or at the very least, assistance from a caring adult. It is difficult to understand why in the presence of multiple officers, there was a need to use handcuffs and mace to subdue this 9-year old.  

It is clear that law enforcement is not properly trained to respond to mental health crises. However, that does not relieve them of their responsibility to serve with empathy and compassion.

MORE | ‘Disturbing & unacceptable’: NY AG James, Rep. Morelle on 9-year-old pepper sprayed by RPD

We must ensure these mental health calls are routed to appropriate services, like the newly formed Person in Crisis (PIC) team, to allow mental health professionals to do their job.

This incident must be fully investigated, including a full review of all Body Worn Camera footage of the officers on scene, and an explanation for why PIC was not dispatched. We are calling on Chief Herriot-Sullivan to take any measures necessary to ensure this type of interaction does not reoccur in the future, and to hold accountable any officers who violated departmental policies in this regard.”

The City of Rochester released a statement Monday evening saying officers involved in the incident have been suspended. The city did not specify which officers, or how many.

Mayor Lovely Warren is calling for changes to New York State law that would allow cities to take more immediate action to discipline officers “in cases like this one.”

Check back with News 8 WROC as we update this developing story.

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