In Rochester, NY a 9 year old girl was handcuffed and pepper sprayed after parents called 911 for help (1). Some sources say that dispatch was told there was a concern about the child’s mental health, others claim that dispatch was told the call was related to a vehicle theft. This follows 2 previous situations when 911 was called in response to mental health concerns resulting in 1 death (2). The mayor has publicly denounced the police officers involved in all situations, fired the chief of police and installed an interim chief (following previous situations), has passed a law barring police from handcuffing children under the age of 12 and limiting the restraint of minors, and seems to have gained support from the public and some members of the city council to reform the police department (3). Persons in Crisis teams have already been put in place, but were not sent to the scene in response to the 911 distress call (4). This is why the content of the call appears as the center of discussion for some news outlets. The family has filed a lawsuit against the city of Rochester, which is the first step in suing the state.
We stand by the Pope family in their decision to sue the city of Rochester.
We appreciate that Mayor Warren has made the decision to move forward with policy changes designed to censure the police department and prevent future incidents similar to those experienced by the Pope family, including reallocating the use of funds to hire social workers in response to mental health calls, and we urge the City Council of Rochester to move forward with reform and improved policies. While we appreciate and support the unionization of workers, we do not support professional organizations that allow or encourage unethical behavior without censure. The police union has an obligation to advocate for the rights of its members and those rights must include protecting the respect and esteem of the profession itself. That the police union has not advocated for properly vetted ongoing training programs for its members or any other meaningful corrective measures within the policies of the department in order to protect the public reputation of its members is shameful. The New York State Law Enforcement Accreditation Program must complete a thorough audit of the Rochester police department and recommend immediate corrections.
The fact that a group of officers felt so threatened by a nine-year old girl who was unarmed and already handcuffed that they felt compelled to use toxic chemical spray to subdue her shows how woefully under-prepared the officers of Rochester are to do their jobs.
We sincerely urge Mayor Warren to support the Pope family in their lawsuit.
We urge the city council to move forward with meaningful change in municipal laws.
We urge uniformed officers to appeal to their union leaders to provide them and their colleagues with appropriate resources to prevent future incidents of excessive force, particularly when dealing with minors and vulnerable adults.
We demand that the NYSLEAP complete a thorough and full audit of the Rochester Police Department. This should have been done in March of 2020 after the death of Daniel Prude. We stand with those who demand that the city council of Rochester provide immediate funds for the police department to implement emergency training for all law enforcement agents still employed with the police department so that those officers can learn de-escalation strategies and that 911 dispatch agents be properly trained to determine appropriate dispatch of Person in Crisis Team members.
What are some ways you can support the Pope family as they move forward with this lawsuit? They will likely endure a long legal battle as they sue the city of Rochester, then the state of New York - the first of many steps to have the state supreme court rule on the laws currently in place as they relate to excessive force. If you're in New York or surrounding areas, please join us in supporting this endeavor.