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Rochester City Council halts vote on RPD outside some RCSD schools

Emily Hunt for WXXI News

A vote to station Rochester Police outside of several city middle and high schools has been tabled for now. The decision was made Thursday during City Council committee meetings.

According to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, the request came from Board of Education President Van White. The possibility emerged after a rash of violent acts in and around middle and high schools since the school year began. Officers would be near campus for roughly two hours a day during arrival and dismissal times.

The agreement, if passed by both City Council and the Rochester Board of Education, would require the school district to cover police overtime costs for the effort. 

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is for the concept. She said she's heard from numerous teachers, parents and students who are afraid for their safety at school and the community at large and fears things could get worse around schools. Warren mentioned the 1995 death of Stephne Givens, as a worst-case scenario. Givens was stabbed to death by a classmate outside of Jefferson Middle School. Her family, represented by White, sued the Rochester City School District and won. 

Since council votes on legislation once a month, the mayor said that delaying the vote could also delay the deployment of officers for a month.

“We’re going to provide these services if you want them. If they don’t want them that’s fine. But that’s on them not us,” said Warren.

City Councilmember Michael Patterson chastised the board’s approach to this topic saying that he had “grave concerns.” He mentioned that the district has agreed to hire an outside firm to help with security, and delayed their vote on whether they want police near schools until Tuesday, the same day as the next council meeting. The district is also surveying parents/guardians and holding a forum on the topic on Saturday.

“They had to be well aware of our schedules, and how we would vote on the item, and they’ve chosen to defer. I don’t know why and I’m not offering a judgement,” said Patterson. "If you don’t want the police, you don’t want the police. If you do want the police, tell us that you want the police.”

Citing mental health challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, City Councilmember Mary Lupien said she’s floored by the idea that bringing police near schools would lessen the number of violent acts.

“We need to admit the problem it's not the lack of police in the buildings, it's not the lack of police outside the buildings, It’s the lack of social emotional supports for our kids.”

More social/emotional supports for students were among the requests of the school district's four unions as a way to come to long term answers for school safety. Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small has said she intends to purse it as well.  

Members of council say they’ll meet with Myers-Small and members of the Board of Education Tuesday to decide whether they will vote on the proposal at all.

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.