Council, Police Commanders go Back and Forth on Response to Demonstrations


Rochester police insist the difference between their aggressive response to demonstrators on Friday and Saturday nights and their softer approach at nightly protests against the death of Daniel Prude since then has been the softer approach of the demonstrators. 

Chief La'Ron Singletary said in a City Council briefing Thursday afternoon that they fired pepper balls and teargas at the Black Lives Matter protesters Saturday night only after bottles, rocks and fireworks were thrown at them, and only after issuing several warnings so people could get out of the way if they wanted to. He says officers “took rocks and bottles for several minutes” before responding, and he blamed agitators in the crowd for starting it.  

Deputy Chief Joseph Morabito argued with councilmembers who called the firing of pepper balls "disproportionate" and demanded an apology. He said City Council has failed to support the police and said council members have blamed police for initiating the violence.

But Councilmembers including Mary Lupien and Mitch Gruber who were hit by pepper balls Saturday night say it was too great a response for the provocation that he saw, including the throwing of a firework at police.

Questioned by City Council, Police Chief Singletary says he was asked by Mayor Lovely Warren to ease up on aggressive anti-protest tactics after Saturday night. The mayor says she did speak with the chief about tactics and explained her plans to have church elders stand between demonstrators and police. For his part, the chief says he reports to the mayor and does as she asks.

The mayor says since Sunday, community elders have worked hard with demonstrators to make sure the nightly protests against the death of Daniel Prude have been peaceful. Council members repeatedly said they want to maintain that less-violent response.

City Council members questioning why Rochester Police Officers covered their names and sometimes badge numbers at the series of nightly protests were told it was for the officer's protection.

Chief Singletary says protesters are Googling officer names and spreading information about them and their families on social media. Deputy Chief Morabito says he has seen this happen in real time, with protesters calling family members of officers right in front of them and threatening to come to their homes. He says he personally gave his officers permission to cover their name tags.

Councilmembers wanted to know why dogs have been at the nightly demonstrations outside the Public Safety Building when they seem to provoke the crowd.

Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary says they're not the city's dogs: they belong to the New York State Police. Mayor Warren says the city has talked to State Police about whether the dogs are necessary and asked not to have them here.

Chief Singletary and his entire command staff have either submitted their retirement papers or arranged to return to their former ranks as of September 29th. Mayor Warren says she will appoint an interim chief, but will not do a national search for a new police chief until next year. The mayor says she doubts anyone would come to the RPD at this time. She says the interim chief will be named prior to the end of the month.