Rochester Police union critical of city plan to centralize police services

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In a letter addressed to Rochester City Council on Tuesday, the union said the proposal is a "giant step backward" for the department's efforts toward community policing. (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - The Rochester Locust Club Police Union is criticizing a move to reorganize the Rochester Police Department by centralizing patrol investigations.

In a letter addressed to Rochester City Council Tuesday, the union said the change is a "giant step backward" for the department's efforts toward community policing.

"The centralizing of police services distances members of the community who are in the most need of assistance, interaction and communication with the police," the letter said, before going on to criticize the plan as a return to 1970s policing.

Currently, all 33 investigators are assigned to five patrol sections in the city. Soon after the new year, they'll be centralized in the Clinton patrol section as a field investigation section.

In the letter, Mazzeo called the move “poorly planned” with no public input.

“This is nothing more than window dressing; this is doing more with less,” he said. “These investigators, these 33, will be responsible now for any follow up, anywhere in the city. How is that effective?”

Rochester Deputy Chief Joe Morabito said the restructuring will work similar to its homicide unit - as a team - to close more cases from property crime to non-deadly shootings.

“We've been doing this type of structure with investigations for years and years and we’ve stayed pretty stagnant with our clearance rate,” Morabito said. “In order to try and get better at the shootings, burglaries, robberies, sex offenses and every other case we investigate, we know this team approach works.”

Mazzeo, however believes the restructuring will only hamper an investigator's work by taking them out of the neighborhoods and people they know.

“It may be efficient, but I don't think will be effective,” said Mazzeo. “Before, an investigator could have a better chance at solving crime because he knew the people; he knew the area in which these crimes are occurring. Now he's going to get assigned crimes anywhere in the city.”

Rochester City Council Vice President and Public Safety Chair Willie Lightfoot said Mazzeo is missing the point. He believes this move will make the city safer by increasing the arrest rate for non-fatal shootings.

“My responsibility and the city council’s responsibility is to make sure we’re providing the safest environment we can provide for our community,” Lightfoot said. “If we keep doing the same things, we’re going to keep getting the same results. If you look at those statistics, they continuously remain the same because we haven’t change the pattern. We need to change the pattern by doing something different.”

Lightfoot said the restructuring falls in line with the priorities of the ROC Against Gun Violence Coalition, which aims to eradicate gun violence and educate the community about the effects. Lightfoot chairs the coalition which is entering its second year.

“Reducing crime, especially shootings in our community should be one of our priorities,” said Lightfoot. “The community policing part is something that’s ongoing every day; the police officers are doing that every day.”

Morabito said the move will maintain relations, and better coordinate efforts by having a direct supervisor for investigators.

“Our ability to pull our guys together and put the adequate amount of resources where needed is a much more effective and efficient way to do business,” he said.

Justin Roj, Communications Director for the City of Rochester, said in a statement that Mayor Warren has full confidence in Chief La’Ron Singletary to manage the department and ensure the safety of public as well as our officers.

"As it relates to this proposal, we believe more conversations are worthwhile, but we have full confidence in the chief to best meet the needs of the city," the statement went on to say.

Other cities, including Syracuse, St. Louis, and Columbus, Cleveland and Dayton in Ohio follow the restructuring model.

13WHAM's Antoinette DelBel covered Wednesday's news conference. You can follow her on Twitter for updates.