Rochester's New Approach To Reducing Crime: Focus On Violent Offenders

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For a guy who lives in Virginia, I’ve written quite a bit about Rochester, New York this year. There was the arrest of Mayor Lovely Warren’s husband on drug and gun charges earlier this year, which came just days after Warren herself had complained about the number of “illegal guns” on the street (Warren recently lost her re-election bid, losing in the Democratic primary to a Rochester city council member). Then there was the “gun buyback” in the city hosted by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who swore that the compensated confiscation event would make the city safer.

In fact, I wrote last month that we’d check in on the number of shootings that took place in the month after the buyback to see if, in fact, it made the city any safer. According to the Rochester Police Department’s Open Data Portal, the answer is “no”. From May 1st through the 25th, when the “buyback” took place, there were 38 shootings and 2 homicides in the city. In the following 25 days, there were 36 shootings and 5 homicides. So much for “buybacks” making a difference.

Now the city’s police chief has announced a new approach, and one that we’ve written about quite a bit here at Bearing Arms; focusing on violent criminals and referring cases to federal prosecutors whenever possible.

Gun-related violence has become a daily occurrence in the city of Rochester. The Rochester Police Department developed a new initiative to help end some of the violence. [Chief Cynthia] Herriott-Sullivan says the department will not only target violent gun offenders but go after these criminals federally.

“The goal for me is simple, that when people are arrested for these violent gun-type incidents, I want them to stay in jail,” Herriott-Sullivan said. “It’s that simple.”

Police officers will now be joined by deputies from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. The extra manpower will help specifically target known violent criminals in the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. Other agencies are helping out as well.

“The New York State Police, they’re overwhelmingly stepped up to offer resource,” Herriott-Sullivan said. “The U.S. Marshals are also going to be working with us.”

Activists in Rochester have already started complaining about the new strategy. Free The People ROC, which describes itself as a “movement focused on investing in our community by defunding the police and abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex,” released a statement rejecting the police chief’s plan.

Our communities need help and support, not the FBI. The FBI is an organization who has historically destroyed Black and brown communities and dismantled Black organizations working to protect our community. Through the work of violence prevention organizations like Advance Peace, we know that when people at risk of being involved in gun violence are provided with mentoring, opportunities to earn livable wages, heal trauma and learn alternatives to violence, the trajectory of their lives drastically change.

We call for the implementation of Advance Peace in our city, as they’ve been successful in reducing gun violence without police in Richmond, California by 86% over a 10-year period.  We deserve long-term investments that actually interrupt the cycle of violence and address the root causes, not more police and incarceration.”

The good news for Free The People ROC is that, if implemented correctly, the new strategy that the Rochester police will be using should result in fewer overall arrests while also reducing the violent crime rate. And frankly, there’s nothing preventing the city from using a collaborative approach that brings in community-based programs like Advance Peace while also using law enforcement to focus on the most violent and prolific offenders.

We know that in any given city there’s a small group of offenders who are responsible for most of the shootings and murders. A 2017 study of homicides in Oakland, California, for example, found that about 700 people, or 0.16% of the city’s population, committed a majority of the city’s homicides and shootings over an 18-month period. Rochester has about half the population of Oakland, California, so the city’s likely going to be focusing its efforts on about 500 residents at high risk of both committing and being the victim of violent crimes.

By focusing policing efforts on these offenders and referring them to the U.S. Attorney’s office for prosecution whenever possible, Rochester can dramatically cut down on the number of shootings and homicides in the city without trying to arrest anyone and everyone who may be committing a non-violent possessory offense like carrying a gun without a license.

Ideally, the state of New York would remove many of those non-violent possessory crimes from the statutes altogether, but since that’s not going to happen anytime soon the best possible approach is to prioritize the arrest and prosecution of the city’s most prolific violent criminals. If Rochester is as successful in adopting this strategy as other cities have been, we should soon be able to see some results. Outgoing mayor Lovely Warren has endorsed the tactic, but it remains to be seen if council member Malik Evans, who’s going to be the next mayor, will stick with this plan once he’s in office or if he’ll return to the failed strategy of trying to reduce the supply of firearms instead of reducing demand among that core group of individuals responsible for a majority of the city’s shootings.

Jul 31, 2021 8:30 AM ET