When Mayor Lovely Warren submits her budget proposal to Rochester City Council later this month, the spending plan will include funding for a new Office of Neighborhood Safety, which officials intend to serve as a hub for the city’s violence reduction initiatives.
How much the city will invest in the office remains an open question, however.
Much like other cities across the country, Rochester has seen a spike in violence over the past year. There have been 22 homicides in the city this year, with nearly three-quarters of those deaths the result of gun violence, according to the Rochester Police Department. The average age of victims is 32, and 13 of the 22 cases remain open.
Warren first announced that she would create the Office of Neighborhood Safety during her State of the City address in January. She held a news conference Tuesday at Father Laurence Tracy Advocacy Center on North Clinton Avenue to release additional details about the office, which would be community-led and staffed by civilians, not police.
“We’re hopeful that this will have a significant impact on what we’re doing right here in our city,” Warren said. “We need to do more, we have to do more, and the city is going to lead the way through this office."
City Council will likely vote on the budget, including the Office of Neighborhood Safety, in June. Officials plan to hire an office coordinator some time in May and to convene a July "violence-prevention summit" with community advocacy groups.
The office will be expected to collaborate with several community advocacy groups, including ROC the Peace, Rise Up Rochester, and United Christian Leadership Ministries, and will be housed within the city’s Department of Recreation and Human Services.
While Warren and city leadership laid out some clear goals for the office, such as targeting the roots of violence and offering opportunities for mentorship and employment for at-risk youths, they did not give specifics about staffing and how much the city plans to invest in the undertaking.
Daniele Lyman-Torres, commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Human Services, said the funding will be outlined in the fiscal year 2022 budget.
“We’re going to start that strategic planning this summer,” Lyman-Torres said. “The right now is right now, and we’re going to do what we can in that planning for those small wins that could have immediate impact.”
In forming the Office of Neighborhood Safety, Rochester officials are following the lead of Newark, New Jersey, which last year diverted 5% of its public safety budget -- roughly $11.4 million -- to a similar Office of Violence Prevention. Rochester officials met with representatives from Newark to seek their guidance.
“We acknowledge that in the space of working around violence and violence prevention, it’s a huge area that I saw the city of Rochester could do a better job at,” said City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot. “We could really step up our work in that space.”
City Councilmember Malik Evans, who is challenging the mayor for her seat this year, echoed the sentiment of the Office of Neighborhood Safety, stating that any attempt to remedy Rochester’s violence must come from collaboration between government and advocacy groups.
“We also must invest in youth development,” Evans said in a statement. “Kids need educational and recreational opportunities year-round. Summer programs and jobs provide outlets for youthful energy and paths to career success, while also directly benefiting the community. As mayor, I will invest in our youth and always work to give our kids a fighting chance.”
Rudy Rivera, CEO of the Father Laurence Tracy Advocacy Center, said during Tuesday’s news conference that the city stepping up to address violence does not serve as a call to action but as a call for accountability. Rivera said the community advocacy groups, which are active in neighborhoods most affected by violence and which regularly talk to people in those communities, are pivotal to any violence reduction efforts.
“It’s an election year, y’all know what that means, right?” Rivera said. “You’ll have more friends today than you will have several months from now. But the work on the street, as a foot soldier, I commend all of those who walk the sidewalks like we do here.”
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or email@example.com.