ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Malik Evans hosted a press conference Thursday afternoon to discuss violence prevention in the city, including an update on the search for a new police chief, and the consolidation of the city’s anti-violence programs.
Joining Evans for Thursday’s media appearance was Victor Saunders, the mayor’s adviser on violence prevention programs. Evans announced that Saunders will lead a new coalition of anti-violence programs through the mayor’s office which were previously efforted through the Department of Human Services.
“I chose Victor because we need him now more than ever,” Evans said. “We need to make sure that neighborhoods have support so I am centralizing all the violence prevention programs under the mayor’s office. When we talk about young people taking part in meaningful activities, it comes with collaboration. Victor will lead all efforts against violence and we will take our efforts to the next level.”
“I have been meeting with community organizations in the past few weeks and we want to support them,” Saunders said. “The community has stood up, wanting to be trainers and mentors to young kids to be able to make some healthy changes. I’m excited to oversee the city programs we have in place. Not only are we going to be centralizing, but we will be aligning with community organizations to do this work. We will be very cohesive in our approach to bring all violence prevention programs together, and hopefully that will lead to a reduction of violence in the city.”
According to city officials, Pathways to Peace, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, and the Peacemaker Fellowship program will all report directly to Saunders.
Thursday’s press conference follows a particularly busy day for Rochester police, with multiple shootings, a stabbing, a gunpoint robbery, and a suspect firing a weapon at officers — all of which occurred Wednesday.
“We as a community can never stop saying ‘violence is unacceptable,'” Evans said. “It has become so frequent that it’s easy for us to forget about it, but we can’t stop taking about. However, in that talk, action must follow.”
Regarding violent crime on Wednesday, 30-year-old Luis Morales was killed and another Rochester man suffered life-threatening injuries following a triple shooting Wednesday morning near North Clinton Avenue and Rialto Street. Police said a third Rochester man was also shot and suffered injuries that were considered non-life-threatening.
According to Rochester police, it was the third homicide of 2022 after the city saw a record 81 homicides in 2021.
Shortly after the shooting, and just a blew blocks away from that scene, a man was stabbed during an altercation in a store on Joseph Avenue. Authorities described his injuries as “potentially life-threatening.”
Later Wednesday, police said a man in his 30s was shot at least once in the lower body on South Plymouth Avenue and was hospitalized with injuries that were described as non-life-threatening.
Police later responded to a gunpoint robbery on Hudson Avenue that resulted in five people being arrested.
Also Wednesday, a teenager was arrested after officials said he shot at two police investigators who were in an unmarked car on Glenwood Avenue.
Despite the ongoing violence, Mayor Evans insists the city is a safe place to live, work, and play.
“Absolutely the city is a safe pace to work, to live, and to visit,” Evans said. “We’re always going to have challenges, but we are still a safe city. We just have to make sure that we don’t allow violence to be par for the course. It’s important to zero in on the population that is committing crimes.”
As a candidate for mayor last year, Evans pitched youth programs as a way to reduce city violence, including a youth-to-work program which he proposed could create thousands of jobs for young people, keeping them occupied and away from violence.
“We are going to have to make the investments,” Evans said. “If the city doesn’t have the money, we will go to private investors. Any of our youth programs we invest in, those are the tools that we have to look at differently. Public safety and economic development go together like hand in glove.”
“We are going to expand and create programs that will be more meaningful than what has been done in Rochester previously,” Saunders said. “At this time we want the community to know that we are focused and nothing will distract us from taking down this violence.”
Another approach to violence reduction, according to the mayor, comes in the search for a new full-time Rochester Police Chief.
Evans said a new community survey will go live online Thursday and residents are encouraged to fill it out in regards to what they are looking for as the city searches for a new permanent police chief. Evans said that survey will be available through February 4.
Interim Chief, and longtime RPD veteran, David Smith was sworn into the role in October after former interim Chief Cynthia Herriott Sullivan announced her resignation the week prior. Smith became Rochester’s fourth acting police chief since September 2020 when La’Ron Singletary was fired by Mayor Lovely Warren in the aftermath of Daniel Prude’s death.
As interim chief Smith expressed in Tuesday’s press conference, officials say the issue of violence won’t be solved by arrests or police alone, and that the problem will take a community-wide approach to find a solution.
“From the perspective of violence prevention, we can’t look at is as what are the police doing,” said Rochester City President Miguel Meléndez Jr. “We have to centralize efforts: How are we making change as a community?”
The mayor also urged residents to simply reach out via phone call to connect with resources currently available.
“The cell phone is an extremely helpful tool,” Evans said. “If you feel as though your child is losing control, or that they are involved with groups taking them in the wrong direction, or has access to firearms, pick up the phone and call us. If you are a witness and you feel like your family is threatened, pick up the phone and call us. We want to be able to support that. And this is going to take a community approach with jobs and opportunities.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.