ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The City of Rochester appointed David Smith as the new chief of police. The former interim is the first permanent chief to lead the department in two years.

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans hosted a press conference Thursday to announce his selection for the new police chief of Rochester.

“He buys into my belief, our belief, the city council’s belief, everyone’s belief into community-first public safety,” Evans said. “He’s been tapped to take on more responsibility and it has shown that people enlist their trust in him. I’m glad he is now a permanent member of this administration.”

Chief Smith was sworn as interim chief in October of 2021 after the resignation of former interim police chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan. He has led the city’s police department since.

He served as the Deputy Chief of operations as part of Herriott-Sullivan’s command staff and has been with Rochester police since 1992.

“The process we went through to name a chief was very deliberate,” Evans said. “I spoke to possibly hundreds of people, I narrowed that list down to 25 individuals. I looked at all of them, and the entire time I was wondering, am I going to see David Smith in there? He did it, he threw his hat in the ring. Thank you, Dave.”

Rochester has not had a permanent police chief since September 2020, when La’Ron Singletary was fired after the death of Daniel Prude. Singletary announced his retirement shortly after news of Prude’s death became public, but was fired by Lovely Warren before the retirement took effect.

Mayor Evans announced a national search for the position in January of this year but ultimately chose someone internally for the position, despite various incidents that have brought controversy to the RPD.

“You want someone that knows the city, but at the same time, was not involved in previous challenges that we had. Someone that could help turn the page, but also someone if I said, ‘Let’s go walk on Garson Avenue,’ they wouldn’t have to get out a GPS to figure out where it was. So you want to be able to strike a balance,” Evans said.

Following the press conference, Chief David Smith said his priorities moving into the permanent role include hiring more officers, building his command staff, training, and tackling ongoing gun violence.

“We say it again, and again. The community needs to step up. I know, it’s not easy. I know there’s roadblocks to it. But we do all have to work together in a partnership,” Chief Smith said.

Chief Smith acknowledged the undertaking, noting the Rochester community has had a challenging history with the RPD but said he is up for the task.

“Since October, I’ve had people tell me, ‘I wouldn’t want your job’ or ‘I wouldn’t want to be you for all the money in the world.’ Well, I can tell you standing here today, there is no other place I would rather be,” Chief Smith said.

The mayor made his selection and other appointments to his leadership team at 9:30 a.m. Evans said the long-awaited decision would be made Thursday following a development press conference the previous day.

The city is currently on pace to match the record-setting violence seen in 2021 when Rochester recorded 81 homicides. On Tuesday, an altercation that later turned into a fight claimed the life of Willie Wofford, 24, who was shot and killed at the Trenton and Pamela Jackson R Center.

According to the police department’s data portal, it marked the 37th homicide this year.

“This violence is not something we’re going to be able to arrest ourselves out of,” Chief Smith said during a January press conference.

A sworn-in date has yet to be announced by the mayor’s administration. Despite that, the former interim is due to take over chief duties effective immediately.

In addition to the appointment of a new police chief, Evans announced five new leadership hires. “They have a heart for a job that will affect the community. I want to thank these folks for stepping up. You have to put together a good team. It’s not me, it’s we.”

“These appointments are the results of careful considerations that buy the administration’s mission and values,” Evans said.

Recent history of Rochester’s Police Chief appointments

The last permanent chief to guide the city’s police department was La’Ron Singletary. He was fired by former Mayor Lovely Warren before his desired resignation went into effect. The former chief was the focal point of an investigation into the death of Daniel Prude.

Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, died after an encounter with Rochester police back in 2020. An autopsy report ruled the death of Prude a homicide.

“Mr. Daniel prude was failed by our police department, our mental health care system, our society and, he was failed by me,” Mayor Warren said during a press conference two years ago. “Daniel Prude’s death has proven yet again that many of the challenges that we faced in the past are the same challenges that we face today.”

Prude’s death sparked city-wide protests, the dismissal of seven police officers with pay, and eventually the firing of La’Ron Singletary in September 2020.

Following his firing, Singletary accused former Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren of defamation of character, and wrongful termination and sought $1.5 million in damages. It was finally settled just five months ago, with the former chief earning a total of $75,000 and health insurance benefits.

According to city officials, there were no non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements tied to the settlement. The settlement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the city.

Singletary is currently running as a Republican candidate for Congress.

In his position stepped in former interim police chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, who became the first female police chief in the two-century history of the Rochester Police Department.

The former lieutenant rose through the ranks before her retirement from the force in 2009. Her October appointment did not last long, resigning nearly a year later.

“When I came in [as Interim Chief], I had a job I loved and I took a break from that to come and do what I can to help the City,” Herriott-Sullivan said in October 2021. “I have no regrets, I love the City, but the RHA Board gave me a year and that year is up. I’m going to be going back.”

Evans, who was presumptive mayor at the time, expressed his thanks for her commitment. Others, however, were not as pleased with the progress made by Herriott-Sullivan.

Since her decision to step down from the top position in the department, David Smith has since been acting as interim police chief for the Rochester Police Department. 

Chief Smith was sworn in to the position in October. He served as the Deputy Chief of operations as part of Herriott-Sullivan’s command staff and has been with Rochester police since 1992.

Rochester Police Interim Chief David Smith was at the helm during the city’s record-breaking year of violence when 81 homicides were recorded. Smith at the time called the increase in crime “frustrating” and something his officers “all take personally.”

The police chief said 2022 is going to be “challenging” for RPD due to the current staffing situation, with officers being subjected to an extra amount of workload and stress.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” Smith said. “So much so that we made the Officer Wellness and Resiliency Unit.”

Community reactions to the announcement

Community activists are also speaking out about the appointment, with some saying it came as a surprise after the nationwide search, but that they are confident in the city’s decision. 

“David Smith knows the issues of the city, he knows the concerns of the citizens of the community for police reform, and he knows the policies and programs and changes that need to be made in the RPD,” said Reverend Lewis Stewart, president of United Christian Leadership Ministry.

Rev. Stewart outlined some of the policies and procedures that are among his own concerns. 

“We have to focus more on de-escalation instead of use of force. We want to know what is training going to look like? We want to know whether or not there will be better use or utilization of body-worn cameras and that whole process there,” said Rev. Stewart.

City council president Miguel Melendez was among those involved in the interview process. Melendez said, ultimately, Smith was the best candidate.

“I think continuity is important. In times where we have very challenging situations in the city, the chief has been very open, transparent, and collaborative in his approach. So, I think this is a good move,” said Melendez. 

Going forward, Rev. Stewart believes the police department needs to build on its relationship with the community.

“This is a pivotal time, a critical time in Rochester’s history to determine how we’re going to view our police department and how citizens are going to work together with that police department to ensure we get the best from our police force,” said Rev. Stewart.

The Rochester Police Locust Club issued a statement on the appointment Thursday, saying: “The selection of a permanent chief was long overdue. We wish Chief Smith success moving forward. Success will only come by ensuring that a Chief has adequate staffing and resources to effectively provide the level of public safety, which the city is in desperate need of.”

Full press conference

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