RPD Police Chief on the George Floyd Verdict, Officers and White Supremacist Groups and Police Reform


Southwest Tribune: What is your reaction and words regarding the criminal trial’s verdict for George Floyd? And how do you think it might reform policing, if you think that way about it?

Rochester, NY Police Chief Cynthia Harriott Sullivan:

I believe that this was going to get the attention of people that it needs to, I put it that way. Because part of it, is my experience has been when you have problems with stuff like that, it does not just come up overnight. There are signs there. There are other things that are coming in. Other complaints that are coming in. And the issue is whether we take the warnings seriously and address it before it gets too bad. So, I think for the people it needs to, it is going to get their attention.

Southwest Tribune: We have laws like ‘Qualified Immunity’ {Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine in United States federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity, unless their actions violated "clearly established" federal law or constitutional rights.} An overwhelming segment of the population believed that these and other laws on the book that protect police officers from accountability, places them at a level where they are above the law from the average citizen, should be re-examined.

Chief Sullivan:

I think we have work to do. In the past it has been historically difficult to change law enforcement culture. It generally takes a crisis for things to move forward in a substantial way. I think that what this does and brings to the table, puts it front and center, where you have to have a level of awareness. I see what NYC is doing and has approved but I have mixed feelings on it. For example, if as chief and I am doing everything I can and put in place new policies and then when people violate, I hold them accountable. In their rules, I believe it includes the head of the organization. But if I do all I can within my power, but if someone acts outside of that anyway, I do not know if I agree if the police executive or police chief is just as liable for those actions.

Southwest Tribune: Are you having success since we last spoke as you were going into office regarding your approach and policies built around a model of Community Policing?

Chief Sullivan:

I am getting ready to put out my ninety-day plan, which I have partnered with many community organizations, where I have put together many of the concerns people have. One initiative in that report contains information that we have met with parents whose children have been murdered and are cold cases. We have created a website that keeps them informed of what we are doing to solve those cases and gives them the comfort that we have not forgotten.

Southwest Tribune: I ask that previous question chief because many residents are saying the officers are not doing any ‘Community Policing’ but sit in isolated areas and wait on a dispatcher’s call and then react after crimes have already been committed instead of positioning themselves where they can prevent crimes from happening?

Chief Sullivan:

Obviously as we move out of this Covid environment and try to get the department back on track and also our contact with the community. We understand that it is something that suffers a little bit and we had to minimize our in-person contact. So that is sternly still the case but as we open up and our officers are able to do more things proactively, certain those things are going to be the priority. But we are certainly looking for ways to get around it.

Southwest Tribune: The city already has twenty homicides in 2021, which is well on its way to eclipse last year’s homicides total where there were 51 homicides.

Chief Sullivan:

Yea, it is crazy. I met with the police chiefs of Monroe County, I met with judges, community people and even my internal major crime folks and what I am finding is that people that have a history of criminal possession arrest are being let out on a low amount of bail or no bail. So, my next question is why is that? To me this has something to do with the bail reform issue. For me, the nonviolent crimes do not need to sit in a jail cell but the people who perpetuate violence and have a history, definitely need to stay in custody
Southwest Tribune: CBS News aired a segment with white supremacist group leader of the Oath Keepers Jim Arroyo, who revealed how close their ties are to law enforcement officers throughout the fifty states in America that includes retired and active people serving in the United States military, who are assisting the group with militia training. Are you concern that your department have employed officers who have ties to white supremacist groups?

Chief Sullivan:

Oh, yes, I understand that the community at large has concerns of what has been reported. But I can assure you I work closely with federal authorities and if any officer from this department is identified as being involved of any group of that nature, I will be advised about it. They have insured me and thus far I have no information that indicates that any of our officers are involved in groups of that nature.

Southwest Tribune: Do you support New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive order 203 requiring each local government in N.Y. State to adopt a policing reform plan that will maintain public safety while building mutual trust and respect between police and the communities they serve?

Chief Sullivan:

I do. I think it is needed. I think it is important. But I think it has to be precise and a good plan so everyone can be successful. And we got to stay the course. We cannot give up.

Southwest Tribune: What can the community do to help officers in any way?

Chief Sullivan:

Thank you for the question. I would love to see people find a way to pass on information that will be able to help us solve problems. For example, we have people driving through the city on ATV’s and people are dying. We want people to be able to call us and if they want to do it confidentially, you can do that. So, we got to find our way back to that because we got to work together. There are no ways around that. Because if we want to solve things, we have to work together.

Article by: Author and Journalist Rodney Brown, executive director of Brown publishing LLC and Southwest Tribune Newspaper (www.drfreddiethomas.com)
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