public safety

ANOTHER VIOLENT WEEKEND: NOT A WORD FROM CITY HALL? City Hall Looks the Other Way: No Plan, No Leadership

September 5, 2017 – This past Sunday, we saw the shooting death of one man and the shooting of three others in three separate instances. One family lost a loved one to murder, and another’s is now a murderer. Three neighborhoods suffered another long night of violence, sirens and tumult. Parents are trying to explain this horror to their children. Our city lost another citizen.

The street names are familiar:  Trenamen, Seabrook, Central, Lyell and Saratoga. The two people shot on Lyell Avenue were leaving a bar with a group of other people. The shooter didn’t care and fired on the group. The shooting on Seabrook Street happened at 9:30 at night, with families outside in the neighborhood.  Three houses were hit by gunfire.

Lately, these stories, homicides and shootings are reported and treated as a matter of fact by the media – as well as by this Mayor. What is Mayor Warren doing about this almost daily violence? Where’s the outrage?   Where’s the plan and the citizen engagement? Where is the leadership?

Lovely Warren refuses to even admit there is a violence issue. Last year, when homicides were up by 30 percent, she responded with silence, or worse, with happy news that overall crime was down – saying we are safe and getting safer. Ask folks on Trenaman, Saratoga, Central, Lyell and Seabrook if they are safe and getting safer.  We were told that the police reorganization would help solve this – instead, it has been rejected by both citizens and police.

A public survey done last year by our own Rochester Police Department showed that almost 75% of City residents felt less safe under this half implemented program and 8 of 10 police officers felt that they were less effective. And with crime rampant and arrests down by 12%, it’s no wonder they feel that way.

It breaks my heart to see what this lack of leadership is doing to our neighborhoods. Those on the front lines of day-to-day gunfire, shootings, stabbings and violence not only bear the brunt of this violence, they have received no respite, no help and have no hope that things will get any better.  Instead, we have press releases and public relations stunts like infrequent walks with clergy and 90 day community outreach plans when times get tough.

This will change under a Sheppard administration. On day one, we will begin to implement real crime reduction strategies and improve community/police trust, including:

  • Two additional RPD section offices by 2019, without delays or excuses;

  • A culture change in the RPD, “Policing in the Spirit of Service,” to improve police/community relations;

  • A “guardian,” not warrior, approach to policing;

  • A staffing overhire to ensure 100% coverage;

  • Coordinated use of all available county, state and federal law enforcement agencies;

  • Reestablishment of my “Chief on the Street” program;

  • Revised testing and hiring processes to identify and recruit people with key values and character traits and promotions for those who meet community standards.

Most importantly, there will be transparency in our law enforcement efforts. My administration will share quarterly crime statistics widely – however good or bad they may be. True leaders don’t flinch if there is bad news -- they get to work and solve the problem.

Finally, I will lead from the front, not the top. Those families and those neighborhoods that have been terrorized over the past few days deserve to have the Mayor’s full attention, and to know everything the Mayor plans to do to solve these crimes and end these tragedies.  That’s real leadership, and it’s what our City needs right now.

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.

Statement from James Sheppard on Naming of Deputy Mayor

First, I'd like to thank Carlos Carballada for stepping in and working to stabilize city government when Len Redon's health forced him to step down. We welcome Mr. Alexander and wish him well.  Mr. Alexander begins a job three and a half years into an administration that has little direction and focus - as evidenced by the lack of results in education, poverty, public safety and economic development. 

After three and a half years, dozens of press events and a number of committees and panels, poverty levels haven't improved, police and citizen relations continue to deteriorate, violence is spiking and our graduation rate sits at 47%. Yet we are told by the administration how well things are going, that we are safe and getting safer. Just last week the Mayor called the graduation rate an improvement, because it didn't go backwards. And just this morning WXXI reported that Rochester is one of only two areas in the state to have lost private sector jobs in January.

It is the job of the Deputy Mayor to carry out the policies and vision of the Mayor. Without a clear plan and measurable results expected on all of the important issues facing our city, the Mayor's deputy and commissioners lack the support and tools they need to succeed. Leadership starts at the top, and I look forward to presenting my vision, plans and goals before the voters.

James Sheppard Statement Regarding the Second Bomb Threat to the JCC

None of us ever wants to become desensitized to something like this second bomb scare at the JCC. Like with any threat of violence, our reaction can never be to shrug our shoulders and say 'there they go again'. We have to remain outraged. And vigilant. And united as a community against the forces of evil.

James Sheppard's Statement Regarding Lovely Warren's Re-election Announcement

I welcome Lovely Warren to the campaign for our next Mayor and I look forward to the opportunity for serious discussion about our city's future.

In the weeks and months ahead, I plan to show the differing visions Lovely Warren and I have about where our city has been the past three years and where it needs to be. She is correct in her statement that her administration "won't be denied their record."

I have been watching with growing alarm as our City government continues to flounder, making little if any headway on issues such as police and community relations, rampant violence, decaying relationships with neighborhood organizations and the lack of progress on jobs, poverty and education.

More disturbing is this administration's lack of action, lack of ownership and lack of acknowledgement of the serious issues we face. Public relations stunts such as 90 day listening tours and crime statistics press conferences declaring we are "safe and getting safer" are callous diversions to avoid the realities of the highest murder rate in years and an abysmal homicide clearance rate. Such proclamations ignore our city's poorest, minority neighborhoods which suffer from almost daily shootings, multiple murders and unabated gang activity. Ask them if they are safe and getting safer.

I watch as committees and panels are enacted to work on poverty and education only to fade into oblivion.  Many dollars are spent with no tangible results. And even today when talking about our 47 % graduation rate - the worst in New York State's big 5 cities -Lovely Warren said "we haven't gone backward, and that's an improvement."

No, that is not an improvement, that's a deflection. It's another example of a lack of leadership and ownership of our city's problems. Ask families who hope for a better future for their children through quality education if they feel not getting worse is an improvement. Such flippant remarks are not fair to those who do not have resources for private schools and must rely on public schools.

Lovely Warren regularly takes credit for jobs and projects initiated by others, while little has begun during her tenure.  Development is stagnant in our city and neighborhood organizations know they are not welcome in City Hall.

I plan on presenting my vision for the city, my qualifications as a leader and my resolve to be responsible to show results - not public relations and finger pointing. I plan to operate with transparency and embrace input from neighborhood organizations instead of pushing them away.

I will appoint members of city government with solid credentials and hold them accountable for results. I will start a police/community relations plan from day one - and not a 90 day publicity stunt when violence gets out of control. As a former police officer, city school official, volunteer and as an elected official, I have walked and met with residents in just about every neighborhood in our city. I know people are suffering, many feel there's no hope, too many are frightened for their safety and for the well-being of their children.

Saying that progress has been made is easy, showing measurable results is another matter. Leaders take responsibility and are not afraid to take the consequences. I look forward to this campaign and I am confident the people of the city are ready for new leadership, vision and most importantly - results.

James Sheppard’s Statement Regarding Mayor’s Public Safety Announcements

This has been a busy week of headlines for the mayor's public relations efforts. She held a news conference to assert that Rochester is ‘safe and getter safer’. She shared crime statistics with the community, and released reports on her 90 days of community policing initiative and the RPD reorganization - both being touted as successes. I applaud the mayor's recent efforts to engage the community and evaluate the efficacy of the new RPD model. I welcome her to the conversation. Rochester has needed her voice and engagement these last four years. Whether it's downtown development, neighborhood revitalization, or public safety, we need a leader who will roll up their sleeves on day one and tackle the tough issues. It's not enough to make announcements and launch programs. The disproportionately poor and minority neighborhoods most impacted by violence are not impressed by press conferences. They need to see results. Waiting until the year of a reelection campaign to complete an assessment of the RPD's reorganization and police-community relations efforts is just the latest indication that our city is a pilotless ship.

James Sheppard’s comment on RIT Homicide Study and City Hall reaction

First, to the 42 families who lost a loved one to homicide in Rochester last year, we grieve with you. This level of killings is the highest in six years and each and every one of us is diminished by each unnecessary and tragic death. 

Secondly, I was disappointed to hear the response from City Hall to the study - which also shows that if corrected for population, we are stride-for-stride with Chicago for homicides. This is unacceptable and not something to be dismissed. I am appalled by the Administration’s explanation that Rochester having more group killings has skewed the numbers. That's the message we want to send to those 42 families?  

This “spin” is in keeping with how this administration responds to all bad news -  by side-stepping and avoiding it.  

When's the last time this administration has stood up to acknowledge a homicide? A double homicide? A triple homicide? A quadruple homicide? A mother and daughter dying as a result of arson?  If you can't acknowledge a problem, you cannot solve it.

We have a homicide and violence problem in Rochester and as Mayor, I intend to own it, fight it and do everything in my power to solve it.