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RPD unveils new use of force policies

James Brown/WXXI News file photo
A police officer inside a Rochester police cruiser.

New standards for how the Rochester Police Department officers use force were released Thursday. These updates to department policy were sparked by public outcry over the last few years including an incident when police handcuffed and pepper sprayed a 9-year-old.

While the new policy does not outlaw use of force on juveniles, it does restrict it, specifically mentioning use of pepper spray, batons, tasers or similar weapons unless the child is considered “a threat to an officer” or there are “no reasonable alternatives.”

Rochester Police are also no longer supposed to handcuff people they believe are under 12 years old, unless they’re considered “a danger to themselves or others.”

The policy for juveniles now includes a formal recognition that juveniles are still developing and their interactions with law enforcement will shape how they see and whether they can trust the police. 

When it comes to the rest of the population, officers will be required to use de-escalation techniques prior to any use of force with a “defined goal of gaining voluntary compliance of persons without resorting to the use of force to resolve situations without using force, whenever possible.” The policy outlines specific uses of force to avoid, including chokeholds, which have been previously banned by Rochester Police, neck restraints, firing warning shots, or force used as punishment, and retaliation.

During a news conference Thursday, activist Ashley Gantt of Free the People Rochester was asked about the changes. She was not impressed. 

“Revising policies won’t end white supremacy, won’t end implicit bias, won’t end racism, we’re calling for the police to be defunded by 50%,” said Gantt. “Instead, put some of those resources into mental health services.”

These changes, and previously announced adjustments, have been in the works since last November when the city hired law firm WilmerHale to help the city reimagine policing. The new policies go in effect after a round of officer training this fall. 

Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott was not made available for comment.

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.