Rochester mayor, interim police chief change protest policies

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester Mayor Malik Evans and Interim Police Chief David Smith announced in a news release on Tuesday that the RPD has developed a series of new policies and procedures that they say will ensure citizens’ right to fairly and safely exercise their First Amendment right to protest.

“We can debate about who is right or wrong about the issues behind social movements, but one thing that is not debatable is the right of the people to peaceably assemble,” Evans said. “We want to ensure that, in Rochester, assemblies take place in a manner that is safe for both protestors and police."

Beginning immediately, the following policies will be in effect for RPD’s response to protests and mass gatherings:

  • The use of tear gas, flashbangs, long-range acoustical device (LRADS) tones, and kettling is banned.
  • Mandatory wearing of body-worn cameras by police officers while at assemblies.
  • Officers will not tape over their badges. If a determination is made by the Police Chief that Officers may remove their name badges to protect their safety, Officers will wear a clearly identifiable, unique number assigned to them that will be prominently displayed at all times.
  • Significant limitations are imposed on the use of pepper balls. Any use of pepper balls must be authorized by a high-ranking official and they may not be used to clear an area during a peaceful event.
  • Use of K-9 officers is prohibited at protests and mass gatherings.
  • The City’s Corporation Counsel will be included in all planning discussions for protests and mass gatherings and will be present with RPD command staff during an event.
  • Language added to the Police Department’s eviction protocol clarifies the right to protest and to take video at the scene. The policy specifically prohibits the arrest of protestors at evictions unless they physically interfere with officers.

RELATED: RPD: Around 15 arrested at eviction in Corn Hill neighborhood

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“We’ve learned a lot over the past two years with regard to police-community interactions,” Chief Smith said. “Our officers remain committed to protecting our community, and that includes those who exercise their rights to peacefully protest.”

What is kettling?

Merriam Webster describes the term as a police tactic in which officers surround a group of people in order to restrict their movement, sometimes using mesh fencing or other devices. The dictionary suggests the term refers to the area in which the crowd is contained as the "kettle" that is metaphorically about to boil over, or the German noun kessel which means "cauldron or boiler" and has been used in military contexts for an armed force that is about to be overtaken by a superior one.

On Wednesday, News10NBC Reporter Patrick Moussignac asked Chief Smith why he felt the changes needed to be made Tuesday.

"There’s only one person in this department who bears the full weight and responsibility of how, and when these officers will be put in danger, and that’s me," Smith said. "I want a policy that I can live with that keeps my officers safe to the fullest extent, and again keeps the public safe, and allows people to exercise their right."

Moussignac asked Corporate Counsel Linda Kingsley if these changes should’ve been made by someone working as the full-time chief of the department, rather than an interim chief.

"It’s not responsible for us to wait," Kingsley said. "Spring is coming, if there’s public gatherings, there more likely to happen in the warmer weather. We both felt it was an important step to take, and waiting for a new chief didn’t make sense."

Smith added, "If you look back you’ll see there was a difference in how we handled those protests and some of our tactics, and I was the incident commander through most of those. We were able to successfully keep things peaceful without having to necessarily engage folks one-on-one."

Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo sent a letter to the Mayor expressing concern about having no feedback on the policy:

"Mayor Evans,

Really appreciate being blindsided by the press release at 5:09 pm! The message that is being heard is that police officers are to blame. Not the police chiefs and leadership that give the orders! No incentives for our people to stay and keep risking their lives!!! But more unfair biased accusations! And certainly misdirected!!!

On the start of Denny Wrights trial, the worst possible action that could have come from you was a blindsided worthless communication that was poorly scripted and left us completely in the dark! No ability to discuss, offer any insight or concerns, or to even suggest additional changes that could have been beneficial.

As a union, we support and defend the right to protest! Every procedure or policy that is now being discontinued or changed was developed and initiated at some point by police leadership not rank and file police officers! Debate right and wrong, what about not even having a voice to raise concern on what may be right or wrong1

Here we go again, just like the way the PAB was forced down our throat after we were completely left out of the process!

How is the PAB working out for the city so far!

I look forward to the next protest I will stand on the front line behind all of the lawyers from corporation counsel that will be right in front of us!!!!!

Mike Mazzeo
Rochester Police Locust Club"

To which Smith said, "President Mazzeo, and I talk weekly if not daily. However there are some things that are the prerogative of the chief of police, and that is setting policy."