Herriott-Sullivan resigns as RPD chief

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Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan is quitting, after a year on the job.

She was named interim chief after Mayor Lovely Warren sacked Chief La’Ron Singletary while controversy swirled over the death of Daniel Prude after he was placed in police custody. Herriott-Sullivan transmitted a letter of resignation to the city Wednesday. 

“Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan stepped forward to serve Rochester during one of most difficult periods in our history, and despite what she has faced, she protected our City and delivered meaningful change,” Warren said in a statement.

A former RPD lieutenant with more than two decades of service who came out of retirement from the police department to take the interim-chief job, Herriott-Sullivan initially planned to leave the post last June. She plans to return to the Rochester Housing Authority, an agency she worked for prior to being named interim chief.

“I accepted the position of Interim Chief to make real, systemic change on the force, and I can say confidently that we’ve come a long way this past year,” Herriott-Sullivan says.

Deputy Chief David Smith, a 30-year Rochester Police Department veteran, will serve as interim RPD head until a permanent police chief is named, city officials said. Herriott-Sullivan will leave the RPD on Oct. 13.

“Chief Smith is a respected law enforcement leader with decades of experience, as well as a clear understanding of the needs and concerns of our community. I am confident he will serve Rochester well,” Warren says.

Rochester Council Member Malik Evans, who defeated Warren in a June Democratic primary election and is expected to be sworn in as the city’s mayor in January, will immediately be faced with the task of filling the RPD chief’s position. 

Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan

“I anticipate working with Deputy Chief David Smith, who will serve on an interim basis. I look forward to the important search for a permanent chief,” Evans says.

Herriott-Sullivan, adds Evans, “stepped up and served as Interim Chief during a challenging time for the Department. She should be commended for embracing the challenge. I wish her all the best in her future endeavor.” 

Herriott-Sullivan’s notice comes days after Warren announced her own impending resignation. The mayor’s plan to leave office in December would have her stepping down a month before her term ends. 

Warren’s resignation came on the heels of her guilty plea to misdemeanor campaign finance violations. That plea was part of a deal with Monroe County prosecutors that also saw Warren absolved of weapons and child endangerment charges. 

That plea deal, struck with Monroe County prosecutors, does not clear the mayor’s estranged husband, alleged drug dealer Timothy Granison, of the weapon and child endangerment charges of which Warren and Granison were jointly accused.

In a statement, Warren credited Herriott-Sullivan with a string of accomplishments over the past year.  

In addition to setting officer-training and policy reforms called for by the state, Herriott-Sullivan points in her resignation letter to reforms she initiated in the wake of fallout from the death of Prude, who died after an encounter in which he was under the influence of a powerful drug. They include:

  • A ban on chokeholds;
  • A policy separating mental health detentions from arrests for criminal conduct; 
  • A directive calling on officers to deescalate tense encounters; and
  • New use-of-force policies included policies detailing procedures for use of force with juveniles to be implemented later this year. 

Police Locust Club president Michael Mazzeo, who heads the union representing RPD patrol officers, is not impressed by the interim chief’s claims. Herriott-Sullivan has served as a placeholder, carrying out City Hall’s orders but doing little to deal with issues currently plaguing the department, he asserts.

Chokeholds, as one example, were not in use before Herriott-Sullivan banned them, says Mazzeo, who points to deep morale problems in the department that have moved “a lot of good people to resign and hardly anybody stepping in to replace them.” 

Too few officers now patrol the city’s streets, he says, leading to high stress levels in the RPD’s reduced ranks. There are currently some 200 fewer patrol officers on the beat than there were six years ago, Mazzeo says. The most recent RPD exam drew fewer than 200 candidates where past exams drew as many as 7,000.

The Warren administration has not been transparent with the community, Mazzeo says, pointing to her role in the drawn-out controversy over Prude’s death. Instead of dealing effectively to defuse community anger while demonstrators called for her removal, Warren sought to shift blame from herself to the RPD, alienating the community and the police, the union chief contends.

In a City Council probe of the Prude affair, attorney Andrew Celli concluded after extensively interviewing Warren, Singletary and other city officials that Warren’s claim to have not been informed of the circumstances of Prude’s death until months after it occurred was not supported by other officials’ testimony. 

Mazzeo looks forward to Evans’ installation in January as a chance to reset what he sees as a city administration whose lack of transparency has ill served the community and the police as well as other rank-and-file city workers. 

“You’ve got to have hope that things can get better,” the union chief says.

Still, Mazzeo expects, by January already strained patience on both sides of the community/police divide will have worn even thinner.     

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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