‘It has to stop’: Rochester reaches record for homicides as community grasps for solutions

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Three young people were killed Thursday in two separate incidents in Rochester. It brings the city’s homicide total to 71 this year, making the deadliest year on record for the Flower City.

Two people, a teenager and a man in his early 20s, were shot and killed early Thursday in an apartment building on Chestnut Street. The victims have not yet been identified and there are currently no suspects in custody. Anyone with information is asked to call 911.

Later Thursday, a man in his 20s was beaten and shot outside the RTS station on Saint Paul Street. He was taken to an area hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries. Investigators say two suspects, both believed to be in their 20s, approached the victim around 1 p.m. The suspects are not in custody and anyone with information is asked to call 911.

The yearlong spike in violence has the city grasping for answers. Rochester police officials say the violence cannot end until the community comes together.

“We are extremely frustrated,” said Rochester Police Capt. Frank Umbrino. “It has to stop. It’s worse than a war zone around here lately and we want the community to stand up, stand beside us. The community has to get fed up with this and the way they can do that, or one of the ways you can do that, is to continue to feed us information. They know some of their family members or if they see somebody with a gun or you see something like that, you need to call 911, you need to because today it was the young man hanging out outside of the bus station who got killed, but tomorrow it could be one of your family members.”

Rochester Mayor-elect Malik Evans released a statement Thursday regarding the local violence, saying in part:

“Violence in our city has become an all too common occurrence. We are in a state of emergency and we must have a ‘whole community’ approach to solve this issue. As part of my transition, we will be pulling together all who are willing to help tackle the scourge of violence in our community. The government cannot and will not solve this problem alone.”

Although not a homicide, a man suffered life threatening injuries after a shooting on Fernwood Park in Rochester. Officers responded to the area for reports of a shooting around 7:30 p.m. Investigators said the victim arrived at Rochester General Hospital via private vehicle with at least one gunshot wound to the upper body. No suspects are in custody and again, police urge anyone with information to call 911.

Former Rochester Police Chief Dr. Cedric Alexander — who is now a national crime prevention consultant — says the issue of violence is not something police can solve alone.

“Police cannot fix this by themselves, and let me be very clear about that,” Alexander said.

Alexander served as deputy chief for the Rochester Police Department from 2002 to 2005, then as chief from 2005 to 2006. He says the violence is being exacerbated by a number of issues: the pandemic, bail reform, poverty, and access to education. He says right now, it’s all hands on deck. 

“We have to do something to stand together against this, we’ve got to do more than just march in the streets,” he said.

In 1991, Rochester had 69 homicides, the previous record holder for murders. Alexanders says violent years come in waves. 

“It is up, but it’s not quite up like it was in the early 90’s,” he says adding, “In a year or two, it will go down, and it goes back up, it goes down, it goes back up.”

But he says we have to look at trends specific to 2021. If they become normalized, we’re in trouble. “We want to make sure this just doesn’t become a normal trend for us,” he says.

The national conversation on police reform needs to happen, he says. Alexander also says police can’t do everything. 

“We need to define EXACTLY what it is we want police to do in this 21st Century, Christian,” he says.

He says more needs to be done to stand up social service organizations to engage problem neighborhoods. A whole community working together he says can solve this. 

“Rochester’s challenged on a whole lot of different levels,” he says adding, “Violence cannot be tolerated in our communities.”

A community-led workshop this Thursday addressed how to reach youth, how to set them up for success and de-escalate tensions.

“When we came out of pandemic, we saw more young people hurt, more traumatized, more damaged than they’ve been,” said Doug Ackley, of Teen Empowerment.

Part of the discussion Thursday was involved how to be a father or mother figure for those without one.

“Lack of fathers in the household. The family structure is very important,” said Randy Rudolph, RCSD teacher.

James Vanbrederode, Chief of Police Chiefs in Monroe County says he’s all for long-term solutions, but his priority is just getting through a day without loss of life.

“How are we going to get through the next 48 hours to make sure there’s not a murder? How are we going to get through the next 72 hours?” he said.

Data from Rochester Police shows homicide numbers are up, but larcenies and burglaries are down. Vanbrederode believes less people report nonviolent crimes these days, because there are simply less consequences. He and other members of law enforcement have been criticizing bail reform for months – especially when it relates to known violent offenders out on the street.

“We get the mindset of not incarcerating people, but you got to give the criminal justice system resources, alternatives to incarceration, the halfway houses, boarding homes for kids,” said Vanbrederode. “They’re still out there but all empty, drug court is pretty much a new point right now nobody is choosing drug court because they don’t have to, ‘I’m not going to be put in jail,’” he said.

Activists like Rudolph say a solution to violence doesn’t involve the criminal justice system. “Criminal justice system to me really doesn’t work. I believe it first starts off with their relationship with God…We got to first reach them before we can teach them,” said Rudolph.

He says in the past year there’s been tension everywhere. Not just among teens, but among policy makers and police officers, Democrats and Republicans. Working to find a solution, he says, will have to involve a community, and a society, coming together somehow.

According to Umbrino, the homicides per year in Rochester date back to 1970, as he added that record keeping in the past, and before then, wasn’t as reliable as it is in the present. The homicides per year in Rochester, according to police, are as follows:

197022
197132
197230
197335
197433
197531
197631
197755
197838
197931
198029
198138
198234
198333
198440
198530
198640
198731
198839
198944
199043
199169
199250
199368
199466
199560
199650
199757
199848
199932
200042
200145
200245
200357
200437
200554
200652
200749
200844
200927
201040
201134
201238
201342
201435
201537
201644
201729
201828
201932
202051
202171 (to date)

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