Sheriff: Police harassment law is ‘solution to problem that doesn’t exist’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Earlier this week, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo signed a controversial bill into law that would make it illegal to annoy or harass police officers and first responders.

Opponents of the bill argued the language is vague, and unconstitutional. The bill says that “harassment” can be anything from annoying a first responder to assault one. Punishments include jail time and up to a $5,000 fine.

Local law enforcement sent statements loud and clear Wednesday saying there is no need for the law — even though they are the groups in which it’s supposed to protect and support.

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter’s statement said “This is a solution to a problem that does not exist.”

“After careful analysis and discussion with union leadership, I have decided no member of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office shall make an arrest for violation of this law,” Baxter wrote. “If and when this law is validated through judicial review, we can revisit the efficacy of enforcing this statute.”

Wednesday, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary also sent a statement that his department would not make any arrests for violation of this law at this time.

It’s not just the sheriff’s office and the RPD either. Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode, who is also the president of the Monroe County Chiefs Association, says all local police chiefs met a few weeks ago and agreed not to enforce the controversial law.

Webster police officials say they are still reviewing the law before making any decisions, while Fairport Police Chief Sam Farina said “If any officer is subjected to actions that target or interfere with our first responders’ dties, we will use any law at our disposal to address the specific conduct/behavior based on the facts and appropriate law.”

Jesse Sleezer from Dinolfo’s office said Wednesday that law enforcement had the chance to express their concerns about the bill but they didn’t. He said the timing of the criticism is unfortunate, but the police agencies have the right to choose not to enforce it.

“I would imagine and I think some of the chiefs and officers have indicated they do feel caught in the crossfire, we’re sensitive to that we can certainly understand that to the extent that they feel a need to potentially not become involved in a very passionate public debate, understanding that it might not be in the department’s best interest, we understand that,” said Sleezer.

Meanwhile, Rochester City Council has collectively penned a latter to Dinolfo and Monroe County Legislature President Joe Carbone expressing “dismay and concern” over the law, and saying the council is “appalled” by Dinolfo and Carbone’s actions.

City Council’s letter to Dinolfo, Carbone

A few hours before Dinolfo signed the bill Monday, protesters gathered outside the Monroe County Office Building in Rochester to voice their opposition to the controversial bill, which was the subject of a public hearing following the demonstration.

The bill passed in the Republican-led county legislature 17-10. At the public hearing Monday, 24 community members spoke out. Ranging from local officials, to activist group members, to lawyers — and many of them used their allotted two minutes to say they were offended that neither Dinolfo, nor any Republican county legislators came to the hearing.

Republicans who drafted the bill say it’s designed to protect first responders and they say law enforcement officers will have the discretion to decide to use it or not.

“The intent of the law is that the first responders, those that are protecting our community, making sure that the 750,000 people here all well-protected,” Dinolfo said.

Opponents say the bill is concerning, and racist

“It is unconstitutional, it is racist, and trample on the first amendment,” said Rev. Lewis Stewart of United Christian Leadership Ministry. “The law is vague and gives authority to police, to subjectively determine that which is annoying or alarming.”

“We feel it’s a direct attack against already over-police brown and black communities,” said Ashley Gantt, a statewide organizer for ACLU.

Full statement from Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter:

Full statement from Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary:

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

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