ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The first permanent RPD Chief in two years had his confirmation hearing Monday afternoon in front of Rochester City Council.

David Smith has been acting as interim chief of the Rochester Police Department since he was sworn in in Oct. 2021. He is the fifth city police chief in four years, Councilmember Willie Lightfoot pointed out during the hearing.

Last month, following a national search, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans decided to appoint Smith as the new permanent chief. His long-term positioning will be finalized tomorrow with a vote from City Council.

At the time of Evans’ announcement, Chief Smith said his priorities included hiring more officers, building a command staff, increasing training, and getting a handle on the gun violence tearing through the city streets.

At the hearing Monday, those goals remained largely the same. Here are some of the big takeaways from Monday’s session.

Overtime

Councilmember Mitch Gruber spoke with Smith on overtime challenges and the cost to the department, and described it as an ongoing issue he’s experienced since he took office a few years ago.

“This is not a new problem. This is a longstanding problem. And every chief who has sat [in] that seat before, and every time we’ve had a confirmation hearing, and every time we’ve had a budget hearing, we’ve asked questions about what is going to be done to curtail overtime costs,” Councilmember Gruber said. “It’s bad for our city’s budget. On top of that […] it’s bad for the officer’s health, and it’s certainly bad for the community to have officers who are exhausted on the beat all the time.”

Smith emphasized his goals of reducing overtime and offered up some data to explain the long hours clocked, stating that RPD, like many organizations, is experiencing a staffing shortage causing the jump in extra hours.

“Several officers had actually been on the clock continuously for over 30 hours,” Smith said. “Which not only is a violation of the law, it’s also a serious concern for everyone’s health.”

As an example of the severity of the shortage, Smith pulled data that said the day prior, RPD had 37 officer slots empty, the eight-hour shifts for which are filled by overtime.

“So, I’m sure you can imagine, when you do the math, what the price tag for that is alone,” Smith said. He highlighted that filling those slots would bring RPD’s coverage to what they feel is the acceptable minimum, not the ideal.

To remedy the overtime issues, Smith said he instilled a 16-hour limit on workdays and is pushing recruitment as well as centralizing RPD’s responses within their many offices.

Equitable Crime and Diversity in Policing

Councilmember Harris talked about Crime and “open air drug markets” — and how do we address crime equitably — Smith says we need to have more street-level drug enforcement. 

Harris also asked how can we recruit more people who are more representative of the population. The Chief said there is a lot of diversity in the upcoming graduating class. 

He highlighted “customer service” as an essential component of policing that he would like to work on improving.

2020 Protests

Tensions rose slightly when Councilmember Stanley Martin began her questioning, which referenced Smith’s role in the 2020 protests. She opened by citing the recent changes to RPD policy on protest and mass gatherings — which Smith is credited for having a large hand in — and asked why he did not act to stop the violence in the moment.

General Order 680, which dictates RPD responses to protests, notably states that “chemical agents will not be used to disperse a crowd,” and pushes RPD’s role as an observer and de-escalation force above all else. GO 680 maintained that the de-escalation policy will remain in place regardless of whether water bottles are thrown, the “occasional firework” is discharged, or the assembly is declared unlawful — all incidents that happened during the 2020 protests that ousted the last RPD chief, La’Ron Singletary.

“Today I went back and watched videos where you were present on September 2, 3, 4 — on days where people were crowded on bridges, shot with pepper bullets, county legislators shot in the head,” Martin said. “And all kinds of violence ensued. While you were standing there in your role, you had the opportunity to intervene. You had the opportunity to stop people from being tear-gassed.”

Smith pushed back stating that his duty during the protests was first to monitor and share the location of the crowds, which he did from a distance. Once protestors arrived at the Public Safety Building, Smith said that his new duty was to form a line with his officers in front of the building, and no more.

My officers were not equipped with pepper balls nor tear gas nor gas masks,” he said. “And my officers and I were actually subject to the tear gas at the time, with nothing but a COVID mask. Decisions were made that were beyond my scope and my control at the time by the command post.”

The vote to formalize Chief Smith will take place at City Hall on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.