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Federal VIPER task force takes questions from Rochester residents on gun violence

James Brown
U.S. Attorney James Kennedy listens to Rochester residents at a gun violence forum at SUNY REOC in July 2021.

U.S. Attorney James Kennedy and other law enforcement leaders took questions about gun violence for more than two hours Tuesday at SUNY Brockport’s Rochester Educational Opportunity Center in downtown Rochester. 

The forum was inspired by the reaction to the announcement of the multiagency Federal Violence Prevention and Elimination Response (VIPER) taskforce. The taskforce was formed to quell the spike in gun violence in Rochester and Buffalo. The taskforce includes local, state and federal law enforcement agencies including the Monroe County Sherrifs and Rochester Police. During the announcement, residents asked to hear more from Kennedy and have a voice in the process. 

About forty people attended with just about all of them asking questions. Topics ranged from the answerable — how to protect witnesses of violent crime and whether bringing more police and federal agents to Rochester’s streets would increase tension, to things out of Kennedy’s scope — how to bring more money into city neighborhoods, whether they’d fund beautification efforts in blighted parts of town, and asking gun manufacturers to stop producing guns.

Yvette Singletary, a 19th Ward resident, appealed to Rochesterians to work with authorities.

“We need the community to step up and start turning some of these violent offenders in,” said Singletary. “Whether it's their children, their relatives or people that they are friendly with in the community. We need to step up and give the police what they need to prosecute violent offenders.”

Numerous speakers asked where was representation from Rochester Police leadership? Leaders from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Monroe County District Attorney’s office and other agencies answered questions while Rochester Police representatives did not. 

Police Chief Cynthia Herriott was invited but Kennedy said he doesn’t know why the police did not talk to the public.

“They were here at least as far as I am concerned, why did they choose not to be at the table? I can’t answer that question,” said Kennedy.

Rochester police spokesperson Frank Camp told WXXI News that Herriott was unavailable Tuesday and Officer Moses Robinson, who attended the forum, was not authorized to speak for the department. Camp said the department is grateful for the work of their partner agencies.

Kennedy said the dialogue was a good one even though all questions couldn’t be answered. He said having a conversation is helping law enforcement and residents come to a common understanding.

“The entire solution lies more in the community itself, that’s a message of optimism in my mind,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy expects to hold more of these types of meetings in the near future. He expects to provide updates on the 60-day VIPER task force on a weekly basis.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.