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Rochester wants to buy a mobile 'counseling office' for its Crisis Intervention team

Two people stand outside a partially visible home
Jacob Walsh
Social workers Dré Johnson and Renee Brean with the city's Person in Crisis Team head to the scene of a call for a man in crisis.

The chaos of a homicide scene — the police, the media, rubberneckers — can worsen the trauma for victims’ families.

To counter the confusion, the city wants to roll out a so-called “emergency response outreach vehicle” to homicide scenes that officials say would be staffed with people trained to offer support to survivors. Specifically, this vehicle, which can resemble a small transport truck, would be manned by members of the city’s Crisis Intervention Services Unit.

The unit was created in late 2020 in the wake of the death of Daniel Prude, and pooled together the city’s mental and behavioral health resources.

“Sometimes when a situation is happening, (families) don't want to be outside, other people from the neighborhood are coming in, they want that privacy to deal with whatever the situation it is they’re facing,” said Shirley Green, commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Human Services, which oversees the Crisis Intervention Services Unit.

In 2021, Rochester set a record for annual homicides, at 85. That number fell in 2022 to 76, but that total was still more than double the homicides in 2019, when there were 32.

City Council in November approved buying the vehicle at an estimated cost of $300,000. At the time, $175,000 in federal pandemic relief dollars were allocated to the project.

Since then, the cost has risen. City Council is expected to vote in April to set aside another $50,000 in pandemic relief dollars to the project. That funding, officials said, will finalize the purchase of the vehicle, which will have restrooms and a retractable awning, and is handicapped accessible.

The legislation authorizing the funding expects the vehicle to serve other purposes as well.

"The unit will be used to provide workforce development services in city neighborhoods. This could include resume writing workshops, job search assistance, and job application completion assistance. DRHS staff may also use the unit to promote other DRHS services such as youth employment, animal services, and/or community athletics,” the legislation reads.

Green said that, should the legislation be approved, the vehicle will be on the road in spring 2024.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.