ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Local police officers and Black young adults gathered at Aquinas Institute on Wednesday for a second round-table discussion about police-community relations. Everyone was given the opportunity to speak freely about their experiences and opinions.
The group talked about everything from defunding the police, to feeling safe in their communities, to spreading a message of unity instead of hate. Officers from the Rochester, Brighton, and Irondequoit police departments as well as New York State Police, were present. Officer Denny Wright was among those representing RPD.
Denny Wright is telling the group what happened to him in October. “If I could, I would walk back in that house and try again,” he says. “Something has been taken from me, but I’ve been given something better and that’s the love and support of the community.” @News_8— Kayla Green (@KaylaGreen04) July 15, 2020
“There is a lot of love and a lot of communication and once you break that barrier down I think it’s going to make a huge difference,” said State Trooper Jason Klewicki. He said he learned a lot during conversations with students like Taylor Norris.
“I just think building relationships with cops is the most important thing. When you feel safe, you’re set for life. When you feel you have a relationship with someone who’s going to protect you, you just feel like you’re welcomed here,” said Norris.
Defunding the police was another hot topic on the panel. Sergeant Kaela Pitts was raised and now works in the city of Rochester. She said defunding will only hurt black and brown communities.
“Right now there’s not a lot of police officers out there and if you defund the police, their mindset what they believe is there’s going to be even less and that’s going to cause issues in the community that they live in,” said Sergeant Pitts.
Simeon Heard agrees.
“I feel like we should be allocating resources towards inner city children in the community that are affected most by racial disparity,” he said.
Makaila Wilson and Brighton Police Captain Jose Caraballo also saw eye-to-eye on the topic.
“I think it’s important to say, ‘why would you want to do that when we need people to help protect us and make sure that everything is going the right way?’ said Wilson.
“For us, having less cops on the road is going to make things difficult. You want to be able to have the officers out there being able to communicate with the public and creating these bonds, that’s going to help mend what’s going on right now,” said Captain Caraballo.
Noah Williams was also part of today’s panel. He said he learned a lot and will bring it back to his family and friends.
“I think today helped me personally take a step back and put it in a different perspective. They’re fighting for the same thing I’m fighting for, they want the same end result that I want,” he said.
Trooper Klewicki said he thinks many other officers could benefit from these open dialogues.
“Until you sit in those seats, you don’t really know what the experience is.”
This was the second time a panel like this was held and the organizers plan to hold more. The New York State Police is also working on expanding the program to other counties.