It takes more than talk to make residents feel safe

No one can argue that public safety is one of the most important functions of local government. A government that cannot keep its people safe is one that is failing in its fundamental responsibility.

Last week, on the verge of her announcement for re-election, Mayor Lovely Warren attempted to address this issue with the release of annual crime statistics, a report on her 90-day Public Engagement tour and a study on the half-implemented police reorganization.

Tragically, this wave of press events was book-ended between a day in which nine people were shot and one in which a local business owner was brutally murdered in broad daylight in Southeast Rochester.

It should come as no surprise that the mayor attempted to argue that Rochester’s streets are “safe and getting safer.” It is difficult to admit to the public that your efforts are not working, and transparency and accountability have not been hallmarks of this administration. However, the fatal flaws in her argument came thanks to her own statistics.

Take the section of Mayor Warren’s report on the reorganization that her press release failed to mention and the media failed to discover: the citizen survey. When asked the question “Do you feel that the City of Rochester is safer now than it was last year,” 73.7 percent of respondents answered no. Asked how they felt their trust in the RPD has changed over the past year, 57.5 percent said it has stayed the same; 14.3 percent said it had decreased somewhat, and 9.9 percent said it had decreased a lot.

Or consider the annual crime statistics, which previous administrations have released on at least a quarterly basis to maintain transparency and encourage citizen engagement. While Rochester’s overall crime rate is down in line with national trends, homicides were up in 2016, particularly in high-poverty areas. And the clearance rate for violent crimes, traditionally used as an indicator of police-community trust, stands at an abysmal 50 percent.

At the end of the day, the best indicator of the success of public safety efforts is whether or not everyday residents feel safe. And beating them over the head with statistics, press releases and listening tours is not going to do it. A mayor who is consistently engaged, a police department that is focused and a City Hall that helps residents move out of poverty is the formula necessary for long-term results.

Unless people feel safe, and believe that their police department is an effective, trusted partner, no amount of crime statistics will make them believe otherwise.

In the weeks and months ahead, I will lay out my positions and plans to get our city working again.

That effort begins on day one of the Sheppard administration. It won’t be a program or a slogan — it will be a culture change and the new-normal.

As with every effort we will make, this will be done with transparency and with input from our citizens and neighborhood groups. We are in this together.

Monroe County Legislator James Sheppard is a candidate for mayor of Rochester.