ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Police Department officials held a press conference Wednesday morning, one day after the city’s Police Accountability Board launched an oversight investigation into the department’s response to gatherings and protests in the city following the deaths of George Floyd and Daniel Prude.
“I understand that’s their [PAB] charter, that’s their purpose, and we’ll do what we can to support the information they need to look into those kinds of things,” Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said. “My goal is by the time they’re done looking into it, is we’ve already seen and addressed the issues and have moved on.”
However, Wednesday’s press conference was more focused on future protest response than a reflection of the past.
“The command staff department, as a whole, we have to prepare ourselves for decisions that are coming,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said. “I don’t have any direct knowledge of an impending one, but my goal is to set a tone and make it clear to the public that they have a right to protest and we are here to protect that. If there are activities that don’t coincide with that, then those will be treated in a difficult manner. The goal here is peacefully protesting.”
The RPD has been under separate independent investigations in regards to the death of Daniel Prude, by the New York State Attorney General’s Office and Rochester City Council. When details of Prude’s death first became public in September, it sparked a month-long series of protests and unrest in the city, often featuring violent clashes between demonstrators and police.
Those clashes occurred before Chief Herriott-Sullivan was sworn into the role as interim chief in October.
“We want to set a tone for making sure the public understand how we’re going to operate moving forward,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said. “We’re transparent, and if people have any concerns or questions, it’s a great time to come and ask us.”
“The RPD supports the right of our citizens to peacefully protest, as the U.S. Constitution allows,” said Capt. Mark Mura. “As the police department, our primary goal is to maintain public safety, preserve life and keep the peace. We ask that anyone wishing to peacefully protest refrain from partaking in or being involved with anyone that acts or commits acts of violence or crimes during any protest or gathering, In the event there are crimes being committed or acts of violence taking place, your police department may give warnings to disperse. If this takes place and warnings are given, it is unlawful to remain in an area once being directed to disperse. Lastly, keep in mind, COVID-19 is real and continues to spread at a rapid pace. Large gatherings are a risk to everyone’s health.”
“Emphasize de-escalation and just create a situation where we’re respectful to those who want to protest,” Executive Deputy Chief Andre Anderson said. “So our tactics are to just do everything we can to respect the people of this community and our police officers and keep them safe. “We’ve talked to individual protesters and demonstrators, to have really candid conversations about how they feel about the police department and candid conversations about our response so it’s a work in progress, but we’re open to it.”
On Tuesday, The Police Accountability Board announced it is launching an oversight investigation into the Rochester Police Department’s response to gatherings and protests in the city after the deaths of George Floyd and Daniel Prude.
The first oversight hearing, during which Chief Herriott-Sullivan is scheduled to present updated protest-related policies for the department, is scheduled for February 11. According to the Board, members will then have the chance to ask the chief questions.
Police received criticism after using tear gas and pepper balls on crowds last year. In one instance, after a September 4 protest, the department asserted those methods were used to protect the safety of officers.
“A group of agitators began hurling commercial grade fireworks directly at officers standing on the opposite side of the intersection,” the department said in a statement following the protest, “In order to prevent serious physical injury to both officers and spectators, officers deployed tear gas at approximately 12:05 am in an attempt to disperse the crowd.”