Police union president optimistic about interim chief, says mayoral election clouds next permanent chief

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo expressed optimism Monday regarding the choice for the new interim police chief.

On Saturday, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan will serve as the new interim Rochester Police Chief. Sullivan’s term will begin October 14, replacing current interim Police Chief Mark Simmons.

“I’ve known Cyndi for many, many years,” Mazzeo said. “With her time she served, I’ve always found someone who you could have a discussion with. She’s intelligent, she knows the history of the department. She’s lived through the good times and not so good times. I think it’s an advantage of her that she’s spent some time away from the department to get a different perspective; I think that’s a positive thing.”

Herriott-Sullivan is a former RPD Lieutenant who rose through the ranks before her retirement from the force in 2009. She now becomes the first female to hold the position of chief in RPD history, which has been around for more than 200 years.

MORE | Get to know Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, first woman to serve as RPD chief

“Primarily I think the issue is not so much what Cyndi can do, or who she is, I think it’s going to be more important on what she’s allowed to do,” Mazzeo said. “I think we’ve had several interim and then permanent chiefs throughout the course of this mayor’s administration. I think the problem is, for the most par, that she has not allowed the chief to run the department. I think she’s directed them more than listening to them and I think it’s going to be difficult for anyone at this time to accept the position like this.”

Herriott-Sullivan has been employed at Rochester Housing Authority (RHA) since 2016, originally working in the areas of compliance, diversity, inclusion and public safety.  She currently serves as RHA’s Interim Deputy Executive Director, a position she has held since April 2019.

“I think that I look forward to working with Cyndi,” Mazzeo said. “I think she’s somebody that can sit down and will want to work together to get things done better and I look forward to working with someone in a cooperative manner. It’s been difficult for anyone running any department in the city to really run their departments efficiently and effectively with the way fingers are pointed and blames are dispersed.”

MORE | Mayor Lovely Warren, Rochester police union president call on each other to resign

Prior to joining the staff at RHA, Herriott-Sullivan held a number of positions, including Chief Operating Officer at Seamless Communications Group, Chief Executive Officer at Rise Up Rochester, and Management Consultant at both CHS Project Management.

“I think the mayor was lucky to find someone with with the experience such as Cyndi to at least come in temporarily,” Mazzeo said. “This is a very difficult position to be put into. She’s coming in with a staff that is leaving, so she has little ability, maybe, to put a transition team in place. I am somewhat concerned to the other appointment of deputy chief of operations — I’m not sure if that was the wisest move to make at this point.”

Mazzeo said it will be difficult to find a permanent police chief with a mayoral election coming up next year.

The police union president also said that the city is having trouble with finding new recruits.

“We just had a police exam on Saturday and my understanding is that about 400 people applied,” Mazzeo said. “We used to have 5,000 or 7,000 people take that exam. Why would anyone want to take that career, when there’s nothing but negative connotations attached to it? It’s a job that has to be done, and to those in City Council that just thing defunding or getting rid of police is smart — I wouldn’t want to see that put in place. I think people in the neighborhoods are the strongest voice in that issue.

“I hope we can just get to a point where we can get away from all the politics and deal with the job we have to deal with in this city,” Mazzeo said.

Protesters have consistently called on Mazzeo to resign from his position.

Free the People ROC organizers say that the new police appointments don’t address the deep structural issues in policing. In a statement Saturday, organizers said:

“Lovely Warren’s decision to appoint a new interim Police Chief and Command Staff doesn’t address the deep structural issues in policing. Nothing short of a complete transformation will address the problems we see every day. Our demands are clear and Lovely Warren has done exactly nothing to meet the demands of the people. This is what we continue to fight for:

1) Fire and prosecute Mark Vaughn, Troy Talladay, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, Paul Ricotta, and Sgt. Michael Magri and revoke their pensions.

2) Drop the criminal charges against all protestors arrested since May 30th.

3) Daniel’s Law – Pass legislation prohibiting police from responding to mental health calls. The state must ensure an emergency response system that puts trained mental health providers in the lead to respond and direct care in a mental health crisis not police.

4) We demand the immediate resignation of Lovely Warren, Deputy Mayor James Smith, Mike Mazzeo, and Sandra Doorley.

5) Defund and demilitarize RPD”

“We are asking for defunding, and instead we keep getting new Black figureheads you put blame on to hold accountable when the system continues to not work as its supposed to,” said Free the People ROC organizer Stanley Martin. “I want us to think critically, and not just because we have a Black woman that doesn’t mean that’s progress — it means she’s holding a white supremacist space and her title will only allow her to continue a system of white supremacy. So yes we can see that she’s a Black woman, but we can also be critical of anyone who fills the seats of police chief because police chiefs are historically slave catchers and abusers of our rights so anyone who comes in this position we will continue to be critical of.”

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

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