ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A community meeting took place Tuesday with the Federal Violence Prevention and Elimination Response (VIPER) Task Force to discuss the latest efforts to reduce gun violence in the City of Rochester.

On July 7, U.S. Attorney James Kennedy, Jr. announced the VIPER task Force wont start a 60-day surge aimed at removing violent gun offenders from the streets of Rochester and Buffalo to enhance public safety and reduce violent crime.

Kennedy said having meetings with the community brings him hope.

“We find that we recognize common solutions, those in the community, those in law enforcement, we recognize that there are certain things, there’s limitations to what we can accomplish from our law enforcement initiative through VIPER but that’s not the entire solution, the entire solution lies more in the community itself and to me, that’s a message of hope where there is an understanding, to me that creates a sense of optimism in my mind,” Kennedy said.

Clay Harris, the Founder of Uniting and Healing Through Hope of Monroe County, said he supports the task force and the meetings federal officials are hosting with community members.

“I think it’s necessary because we’re losing too many lives, let’s just face it,” Harris said. “This gives us all an opportunity to come together, to work together, to solve this pandemic of violence, it’s not even an epidemic, it’s a pandemic and we have to come together.”

Since the start, officials say there have been a total of 138 arrests in both Rochester and Buffalo.

Officials from the VIPER Task Force held a community meeting on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (News 8 Photo/ALLY PETERS)

Rochester has already seen 40 homicides this year as of Tuesday — the 21st day of the 60-day surge — and is on pace for an all-time record of more than 70. 

In 2019, the city saw 32 homicides, up from 28 in each year of 2017 and 2018. In 2020, that number jumped to 52, an increase of 150% over three years.

According to the officials, for the period between July 7 and July 22, the following combined results were seen in Rochester and Buffalo through VIPER:

  • Total Arrests – 138
    • Firearm Related Arrests – 45
    • Narcotics Related Arrests – 45
    • Violent Felony Arrests – 38
  • Total Illegal Firearms Seized – 22
  • Defendants Adopted for Federal Prosecution – 15 (with 21 additional defendants currently under review for federal prosecution).

Dozens of people showed up Monday for the task force’s meeting. Many said they are hopeful with the work the task force is doing, but they also say more has to be done.

“I was encouraged by what I heard in terms of what they are doing to stop the violence, but it’s going to take more. It’s going to take people in the community coming to these meetings, making their voices heard, It’s going to take more resources flowing into grass roots organizations that are actually with their boots on the ground and making this work happen and it’s going to take building trust with law enforcement,” said Sherita Traywick, a pastor for Young & Gifted Global Ministries. Traywick was in attendance at Monday’s meeting.

A big topic of discussion at the meeting was encouraging the community to work closer with law enforcement and let officials know if they have information about a crime. Some community members expressed concerns of “snitching” on others and how that could present them with danger.

“This is the community’s opportunity to work with us and take back the streets for the law-abiding people in the community and if you are protecting that which is yours, I don’t think you’re snitching and so that would be my message to the community. This is an effort to take back for the vast majority of good and decent people that live in these areas where most of this violence is concentrated, this is our effort to protect them and allow them to have a voice and take back their streets,” Kennedy said.

Traywick said she understands worries about snitching, but at the same time she said the community is “loosing too much.”

“As a community we have to decide that there have been too many deaths, that you know, it’s unsafe in our communities and do the right thing. It’s a code, but all codes can be broken,” Traywick said. “If we want our communities to be safe places for our children to live, grow, and be prosperous citizens, then we have to change that narrative and you have to speak up because it’s the right thing to do and we have to protect each other.”

Community activist Antonia Wynter was also in attendance at the meeting. She had been calling on the task force to hold a meeting with citizens and was happy they did.

“We really appreciate the members of this task force have come back to the community so quickly to show us, like look, here is the work we are doing, but we want to make sure there is a laser focus on community involvement and putting those two pieces together,” Wynter said.

At the meeting, community members also discussed having more people locally be part of the effort to reduce violence and additional funding for positive community initiatives that are working to stop crime. 

Kennedy said they plan to hold another meeting in the future with community members, something many say is important.

“We want to show consistency and we want to show that it’s not just a one and done process. We want to show that we have taken what we have said into consideration and things will continue to evolve,” Wynter said.

The task force is aimed at reducing violence in 60 days and then taking a look at progress. However, Kennedy said the program will continue as long as it needs to.

The meeting was held at the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center and was open for anyone in the community to attend.

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.