ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren joined city officials Tuesday to announce a community-based, neighborhood safety and violence reduction initiative.
It’s called the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a city-run program to “coordinate community efforts to reduce violence.” City officials say it will serve as a central hub to bring organizations together to develop a “community-wide violence reduction strategy.”
“Though we know that violence across the country has increased 30% over the past year, violence in our city is what we truly care about,” Warren said.
Last week, Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan held a press conference to address recent city violence involving young people, and what the Rochester Police Department is doing to crack down on gun violence, including targeting repeat offenders.
“What we saw in 2020 was a significant increase [in violent crime] and what we’re seeing in 2021 is a tragedy,” Warren said. “What we realize is that we needed a neighborhood office, led by the city, an Office of Neighborhood Safety led by the city to coordinate all the different efforts.”
Recent violence among city youth includes two 16-year-olds facing murder charges for a deadly carjacking attempt in Gates last month and includes a deadly arson incident in March on Lyell Avenue, and an 11-year-old being shot late last month.
“In 2019, we hit a 30-year low in our community of violence,” Warren said. “2020 hit us like a storm and we need to get back to what we know works, and doing a lot more to impact violence. These partners have been with us every step of the way.”
The mayor said the new Office of Neighborhood Safety will:
- Provide public safety data collection
- Coordinate non-police responses
- Peacekeeper fellowship
- Mentorship programs
- Violence interruption programs
- Job readiness prorgrams
- Trust building with civilian messengers
“I was talking to the police chief earlier and something struck me,” Warren said. “A young man that was a victim yesterday — a few weeks ago we had him in our custody and it bothers me because I think that maybe we could have saved his life, when we was released him, if we had a program in place that might have put him to work, might have given him some help, might have helped us understand why he was in custody in the first place.”
The mayor said this program is designed from a similar one from Newark, New Jersey that has shown some promising results.
Rochester City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot said this new Office of Neighborhood Safety us a public recognition of a violence issue in Rochester, a community step towards fixing it.
“It’s starts with us being able to acknowledge: First we have a problem. We have a problem in Rochester,” Lightfoot said. “We’re not burying our heads in the sand, but we have to come together collectively to be a part of the solution and this problem is so big, it’s so systemic and structural that it needs and deserves a dedicated office that spends time around the clock just working on violence prevention initiatives. Today is that day. We’re sick and tired, but we’re not going to do the same thing and expect different results.”
“Over the years we’ve tried new things — some things worked, some things did not work,” Warren said. “This is a new initiative that we’re trying to replicate that has worked in another city.”
According to city officials, the Office of Neighborhood Safety would oversee the mayor’s existing Peacemaker Fellowship, which identifies city residents with a “high likelihood of becoming victims of gun violence,” and enroll them in a “rigorous personal development program that includes mentorships, peer-to-peer learning to achieve education, career, and other life goals.” Officials say this program was modeled from a similar one in Richmond, California that they say contributed to significant reductions in homicides and gun violence.
“We have a wide variety of programs and initiatives across the city — both public and private — that are dedicated to stopping violence,” Warren said. “What is clear, is that the coordination, and therefore, the effectiveness of these programs must be improved.”