Rochester City Council still tweaking police reform plan as April 1 deadline nears

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester’s police chief says punishment for the police involved in last year’s death of Daniel Prude, if there is to be any, will not be “immediate” but will take a careful and fair process first.

The chief responded Monday to a demand from the City Council that the police be punished.

Her response came as the council wrestled with plans to reform the police department and consider the proper role of the police.

"I do think the job of an officer has become larger and larger over time and we really need to look at what do we want as a community,” Councilman Miguel Melendez said during a Monday night work session.

Members of the council debated their own tweaks to the city’s proposed police reform plan, prepared by Mayor Lovely Warren’s office, prominently including shrinking the police department but also figuring out what duties, like mental health crises, they no longer want the police to handle.

“And rightsizing the RPD, I think we have two rightsize the job,” Melendez continued, “and really think about what belongs in RPD purview and what might be somebody else’s job.”

The death of Daniel Prude in Rochester almost exactly one year ago during a police mental health response, brought demands last week from the council that the police involved be disciplined, or possibly fired.

The new response from Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan spelled out that that will be a lengthy process, involving notification to the police about what, if any, departmental charges they face, then a chance to respond to the charges then a plea, then hearings which could stretch over several months. In her note to the council, the chief said a determination on any charges would be made by April 1.

As the council went over its lengthy plan, members focused on questions like how to handle, and track down, any police involved in extremist groups, and about the police use of heavy gear like the department’s Bearcat vehicle, which critics consider “military equipment.”

“Our officers have to do the job,” Councilman Willie Lightfoot said. "Which means going after some very bad people and they have to have the equipment to be able to do that. So I don’t want to put us in the situation where we also are not allowing them to do their job to get the very, very, bad people that we want off the streets, off the streets and to be able to do that safely.”

“Do you need a bearcat?” Councilwoman Mary Lupien asked. “It’s a tank!”

“It’s not a tank, Mary,” Councilman Michael Patterson replied. “A tank is not a bearcat.”

“But it projects a military image,” Lupen said.

“Well, perception and reality is… Now we’re getting into something else,” Lightfoot said.

The city is drawing up its police review plan in response to an executive order signed last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that calls for a review of all the state’s police agencies.

The city is required to turn its plan in to the governor’s office next Thursday, April 1.