LONSBERRY: New RPD Protest Restrictions Are Wrong

 There’s one problem with new protest policies City Hall has announced for the Rochester Police Department: They’re based upon a lie.


               Namely, that the Rochester Police Department mishandled or overreacted to anti-police protests in the summer of 2020.


               It did not.


               No officer was charged with impropriety, either internally or criminally, and no tactic was criticized or cited by either the Monroe County district attorney or the state attorney general. The federal Department of Justice raised no issues and conducted no investigation, either as to police conduct or civil rights.


               And yet, the mayor who – almost 11 months after learning he would take office – hasn’t yet selected a permanent police chief, has announced a series of restrictions that will hamstring the police department’s ability to contain disruptive protests.


               Going forward, the Rochester Police Department will be forbidden by mayoral order from using tear gas at mass demonstrations. It is also forbidden to use sonic devices intended to disperse crowds. Also banned are the use of flash-bang grenades – even defensively – and the presence of police dogs of any sort. The crowd-control tactic the mayor calls “kettling” is also banned. Kettling is when police stand shoulder to shoulder in a line to stop, redirect or contain the movement of disruptive protesters.


               Further, a member of the city corporation counsel’s office is to be present to oversee police actions at mass demonstrations, and the use of pepper balls is to be severely restricted and overseen by the corporation counsel and senior police commanders.


               And finally, officers are forbidden to remove or conceal their name tags.


               During disruptions in the summer of 2020, the protest organizations photographed individual officers and used the faces and name tags to, often during the protest itself, look up the addresses and family information of the officers. Several officers had their home addresses and the names of their children shouted out in a threatening way by protesters. Many were subsequently doxed or stalked on social media.


               The irony of this announcement and its timing is that it comes as City Hall remains incapable of stemming the rising tide of deadly violence ravaging Rochester. Already ahead of last year’s record homicide tally, the 36 hours before the mayor’s announcement saw a 40-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl horrifically wounded in separate incidents of gunmen riddling family homes with bullets.


               In one shocking incident in recent weeks, a 17-year-old was executed as he stepped off a school bus.


               In a city horrified by violence, the mayor has decided to attack the police.


               And invite more protests.


               Most of us have had enough of the summer of 2020 – apparently not the mayor of Rochester. Most of us learned that bashing the police invited and encouraged wholesale lawlessness, and a dramatic national spike in urban violence whose victims have overwhelmingly been African-American.


               But old habits and old prejudices die hard.


               So do old political stunts.


               By bashing the police department, the mayor sidesteps his failure to protect his citizens and their children. He also galvanizes the woke political base which a changing political scene suggests is the best hope the city’s congressman and state senators have of saving their seats.


               Apparently cop hating peaks in election years.


               But at what cost?


               Under this new Malik Evans policy, the only option open to the Rochester Police Department during disruptive protests is retreat. It may not line up to block a surge of protestors – like those who repeatedly tried to storm the Public Safety Building. It may not use tear gas to break up groups of bad actors or trespassers, nor may it use the sonic devices specifically designed for crowd dispersal. And it cannot use flash-bang devices, even when organized cells of protesters try to make physical contact with officers.


               What the mayor has done is ban exactly those things which are the nationally accepted best practices for crowd control during disruptive demonstrations.


               And, for good measure, he has made sure that individual officers and their families are vulnerable to the personal identification and harassment seen during the summer of 2020.


               Further, by promulgating these rules, the mayor has invited them to be tested. He has decided to ride the tiger, and re-lit the match of anti-police protests. He has invited the summer of 2022 to look like the summer of 2020.


               And he has invited every officer in the department to head for the door.


Police recruitment, retention and morale have never been anything City Hall has cared about, and this new policy makes that perfectly clear to the officers who risk their lives every night to protect the people of Rochester.

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