Mayor Lovely Warren of Rochester, N.Y., is recommending that the city be allowed to fire police officers for cause, along with several other proposals to reform policing in a community that has made headlines for the brutality of its law enforcement.
Body-camera footage released earlier this week showed officers from the Rochester Police Department pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl while she was handcuffed and in clear distress on Jan. 29.
One officer has been suspended in that incident, while two others are on administrative leave while an internal investigation takes place, reports NPR.
Thursday, Warren unveiled a draft proposal for “reimaging and reforming policing” in Rochester that would include advocating for more resources to mental health programs, educating cops about systemic racism and creating disciplinary policies to combat discrimination, and petitioning New York state to amend its laws so that the city of Rochester can terminate police officers.
“I get a lot of requests to fire an officer immediately. The current state of affairs would not allow me or the chief to do this,” Warren said at a virtual press conference introducing her proposals, according to WHAM news.
The proposals also include a plan to support passage of Daniel’s Law, a measure introduced this week that would amend New York law in order to establish response units with mental health professionals who can respond to mental health emergencies instead of armed police officers, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The proposed legislation is named after Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who died last March after Rochester officers pinned him to the ground and restrained him with a “spit hood” while he was having a mental health crisis.
Rochester recently launched a “Persons in Crisis” program to direct mental health emergencies and similar crises to mental health professionals. But according to NPR, the mayor said that the call to police last week which ended with one of them pepper-spraying a child came in as a family distress complaint rather than a mental health emergency, and so was not routed to the system with mental health professionals.
Meanwhile, the mother of the 9-year-old who was pepper-sprayed by an RPD officer wants the cop responsible to be fired and is also planning to sue the city for a slew of claims, after telling the Washington Post that she told the responding officers her daughter needed mental health support.
“I was saying, ‘We need mental health out there,’ ” Elba Pope said in an interview with the Post. “He ignored me.”
It’s a striking claim, given that the body footage of the incident shows Pope repeatedly cursing at the unidentified child, including calling her a bitch and threatening to “go in” on the 9-year-old who police say was suicidal. The footage then shows the child being taken away from the altercation with her mother by officers, while screaming that she wants her father. After exhibiting distress and resisting their attempts to put her in a police vehicle, she is handcuffed and pepper-sprayed.
Pope has since filed notice with her attorneys saying that she will sue the city of Rochester for emotional distress, assault, battery, excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment and violations of the child’s constitutional rights.
While police reform is certainly necessary, there’s only so much reform that can teach an armed officer not to deploy a chemical weapon at a child—and then there’s the issue of what we all must do to protect our children from brutalization from any angle.