Most RPD juvenile use of force incidents involve Black minors

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Nearly 80 percent of all juvenile use of force incidents involve Black, mostly male, minors, according to the latest investigative report from the Police Accountability Board

“This data underscores a disproportionate impact on the Black community, raising questions about the factors contributing to such disparities, including potential biases in law enforcement practices,” the report states. “The overrepresentation of Black minors in use of force incidents emphasizes the urgency for a thorough examination of policing strategies, training, and policies to address systemic issues.”

Released Monday, “Juvenile Use of Force: An Oversight Investigation” reviewed more than 300 incidents involving 184 juveniles that involved “intentional physical strength or energy exerted or brought to bear upon or against a person aged 17 or younger for compulsion, constraint, or restraint.”

The report, which comes from the PAB’s policy and oversight division, was an attempt to examine the effectiveness of a number of policies created in 2021 by the Rochester Police Department. However, the board says data restrictions, including a limited timeline of incidents and bodycam footage, reduced the overall effectiveness of the investigation.

For example, of the 10 incidents the board identified as cases to be examined in greater detail, for both positive and negative outcomes, only two had the emergency dispatches and body-worn camera footage information. According to the report, RPD’s response never contained incident-specific rationale.

“Unfortunately, given the lack of data provided by RPD, we will not be able to say whether (the juvenile use of force policy) had any meaningful impact on the frequency of force used on juveniles,” the report states.

Use of force incidents

Still, within the limited scope, the report includes several observations with available data, which included the summary of the event, the location, the type of force employed and the demographic information of the juvenile.

In that time frame, Black minors made up 77 percent of all incidents, with Hispanic and white juveniles making up 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Gender, which only has male or female reporting options, was heavily skewed toward male, which accounted for 75 percent of all incidents. Ages of children involved ranged from 2 to 17 and averaged about 14 years old.

ZIP code 14621 accounted for about 20 percent of all incidents, which is similar to the proportion of city youth overall in Rochester. Incidents were mainly focused in the Crescent neighborhoods of the city, which, broadly, have higher populations of people of color and poverty. The northern RPD patrol sections of Lake and Clinton made up more than half of all cases.

About 30 percent of all juvenile use of force incidents were related to a ​​mental health call. One incident that the PAB researchers studied in greater detail, for example, involved a 14-year-old with a self-inflicted cutting outside a home who was wristlocked, handcuffed and lowered to the ground. The report notes that policies lack guidance about when officers should call the Persons in Crisis team, which could be important for complex mental health situations.

Another incident involved “at least seven officers participating in the restraining and handcuffing of a 14-year-old child at a school after reports of violent behavior toward fellow students and staff members. That calls into question the level of response and force employed to subdue a child during a mental health-related crisis,” the report states.

Other common events involving juvenile use of force are in robbery investigations, active fights, and warrant executions. However, many calls could fall into multiple categories, the report notes.

The most commonly used technique across all cases was ground control, referring to holds that often take subjects into a handcuffing position. Display of force was the second most common, with the category of “firearms, handgun” being the most common in those cases.

Less lethal tools were used as well and included tools such as bean bags, tasers, pepper spray and spit socks. The use of batons and pressure points also were a category of takedown in these incidents.

Geography and race

While it does not offer recommendations, the report provides insight on geographic and racial tendencies as well as training related to juvenile incidents.

“Our intent is to present clear observations, allowing the police department, public, City Council, and PAB board members to participate in the formulation of solutions that align with the values and expectations of our community. This collaborative approach aims to foster a sense of shared responsibility and engagement in the creation of policies,” the report states.

The origin of the report traces to a number of high-profile incidents in early 2021, which included the handcuffing and pepper spraying of a 9-year-old girl near Harris Street as well as a similar incident involving a mother with her child on Portland Avenue.

“No child should ever experience assault or abuse at the hands of law enforcement. There is no conceivable justification for the Rochester police to subject a 9-year-old to pepper spray, period,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at the time.

“This provides yet another heartbreaking example of how and why law enforcement, as it is currently managed, is absolutely not equipped to appropriately respond to individuals in a moment of crisis,” said state Sen. Samra Brouk.

Before those incidents, the department did not have a juvenile use of force general order. General orders 338, 437 and 435, respectively, involve juvenile use of force, handcuffing/transportation and medical assistance, safeguarding children of arrested parents/guardians and juvenile procedures, and went into effect in late 2021.

These policies came after an audit of the department’s procedures and training programs by an independent consulting firm and an acclimated training period before going into effect, according to Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, former interim RPD chief.

Under these general orders, the overall policy is for officers to seek “peaceful resolutions” with juveniles using “courtesy, professionalism, dignity, respect, and equality.” This should be done even if juveniles do not immediately comply due to “fear or lack of understanding” and multiple attempts may be needed without resorting to the use or threats of force.

Law enforcement officers are prohibited from using pepper spray, chemical weapons, pepper balls and electric weapons (tasers) unless the child “is non-compliant/assaultive, poses an immediate threat of harm” to officers and others, “and there are no reasonable alternatives.” The report notes this does leave open the potential that impact weapons (bean bag guns or batons) could still be used against minors.

In addition, the use of firearms and handcuffs should be minimized, where possible, when arrests are made in the presence of a child, particularly when parents, guardians or other adults are being arrested.

The major gap the report notes is language regarding the types or techniques of force to be used against children. Officers are trained in Department of Criminal Justice Services-mandated defensive tactics of holds and takedowns, some of which include putting a knee on the top of the back of a subject.

“The policy is devoid of any written directives for officers about what techniques should be avoided with children and what potential impact some tactics might have on children,” the report states. “There is a whole family of takedown techniques as well, many of which are deployed on children as illustrated by the incidents analyzed by PAB.”

Similarly, the PAB researchers originally asked for information related to juvenile use of force since Jan. 1, 2018, in order to create a stronger analysis for before and after the policies were implemented. RPD turned down that request, stating that it was “impractical and time consuming.”

Instead, RPD limited the range to incidents that occurred on or after December 2021, the month in which the general order was implemented.

“RPD determined the scope of this oversight investigation with its refusal to provide requested information in its totality,” the report states. “Beyond stating this should be the scope of the investigation, RPD did not provide any rationale for limiting the window of review.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

5 thoughts on “Most RPD juvenile use of force incidents involve Black minors

  1. I wrote a response that was too long so this weekend I will edit it. I grew up in Brooklyn in the fifties and sixties. My brother and I had a hard-working single Mom, who had jut a few years prior been in a NAZI Concentration Camp. Everything our family had was taken away. We never thought of ourselves as poor; we got by. I’m basing my concept on my own experience. Kids thrive when supported by a three-legged stool. The first is family and a culture that cherishes education and achievement with love and role models. The second was schools where the teachers shared the same cultural values as parents and treated us like their children. Many were WWII vets who went back to school on the GI Bill and genuinely loved their work and educating us. They were very poorly paid, but they loved what they did. The third leg was the community. We lived in an apartment and walked to and from school. The old ladies looked out the window or sat on their lawn chairs on the sidewalk, and the merchants and other parents who stayed home kept an eye on us and weren’t afraid to call out bad behavior. How we teach and what we teach doesn’t need to be changed. Hundreds of curriculum specialists at all levels of government design the curriculum. Classroom teachers have some latitude. The truth is that urban Black kids and their families do not embrace learning because of historic deamonization and punishment of enslaved people levers a legacy of pain. We need. More education, understanding and cultural remediation to make kids happier and safer because two out of the three legs to success are broken.

  2. Can’t add much to the above. The attitudes are home grown, so to speak. If I as a youngster got into trouble at school coming home would have been worse. My father (and there lies the problem, no dads to “guide” the kids) would have had a chat with me. He trusted that the school was in the right and the kid, me, was in the wrong. In addition, and you have heard it from me for years now, the RCSD cannot teach they way kids learn. The bore them academically. They never show them any professions and careers, which will connect the boring academics with a purpose. The Rochester City School Board own some of their attitudes in addition to a home that allows this attitude to fester. At times the parent even heads for the school and bashes the school. So…TEACH THE WAY KIDS LEARN. SHOW THEM THE OPPORTUNITIES THAT ARE OUT THERE AND CONNECT THE ACADEMIC AND OPPORTUNITY DOTS. If home isn’t doing the job at least provide an educational journey worth the time. K-12 is critical in one’s life. Lastly, don’t even think about blaming the police. I never met them in school because the necessity never reared it ugly head, which would have been of my own making. Semper Fi.

  3. You have to love the blame assignment here. None of these “children” are at fault for the levels of criminality they create. No, it’s the POLICE who are at fault here for trying to get some measure of compliance and respect from these criminal types when first investigating a crime or crime scene! Somehow, we’re led to believe that every policing interaction with a Black youth is a one-way street, and with cops being the real bad guys in these situations. Silly, for one. And factually incorrect for two.

    There is not a group of people anywhere in this county who are under greater scrutiny, daily, then are the officers of the Rochester Police Dept. Certainly, not all police officers are “pillars of the community” whether Black, White, Hispanic or Other. There are rotten apples in every bunch. But to lay the bulk of the blame on the officers instead of the perpetrators of these crimes, criminal actions, and highly resistant individuals, is, for me, a tragic consequence of our liberal/Progressive city leaders and the messages they put out to the public at large. “Don’t worry, Jamal, its not you that should be held responsible for trying to evade the lowly police officer for the murder you committed or you resisting arrest – its those dastardly city cops that are racist and only see Black people as criminals that should be held accountable for what they put you through.” Sound familiar?

    We don’t have a ‘police’ problem in Rochester. We have a criminal subset in this city that seems to grow by the day, and with all manner of chaos, impunity, violence and disregard for anyone other than themselves. We then have liberal prosecutors, city council members, a Mayor, and all manner of “touchy-feely” social workers and others who have committed themselves to the lie that “all roads lead to the police department or someone else” when it comes to the individuals engaged in, or suspected of murder, rape, car-jackings and assaults.

    Funny thing is, all of the new apartment buildings currently being built, and all of the buildings downtown being restored or revived – will not do a damn thing to quell the violence we witness every day in this city. Shiny new objects only allow us to take our eye off the ball for a short time only. Even with all of this currently taking place, when all is said and done, we will still have unacceptable levels of ignorance, poverty and cultural dysfunctionality; and with most of it still in tact due to the failed policies of our “betters” in government and education.

  4. This statement leaves alot to be desired: “disproportionate impact on the Black community.” Nothing, of course, is said about the fact that Black kids make up the overwhelming majority of violent school incidents, attacks and assaults on teachers and staff, incidents involving heinous cases (and in the multiples) of murder, rape, assault, robbery, car jackings, etc. As it is, there are literally thousands of video’s available on-line that show Black teens and pre-teens resisting restraint (or exercising such) when it comes to their interactions with law enforcement, nationwide. You won’t find any officer anywhere in this country who reacts positively to someone walking away from them while being spoken to, trying to disarm the officer, or utilizing threatening reactions. That is not a “police” problem. That is a “parenting and culture” problem.

    One would think that the “disproportionate impact on the Black community” would be the fact that a great many of these teens and pre-teens have already had negative interactions with their local police force, and with the majority of what constitutes “negative” interactions being similarly inspired by their own physical reactions to commands given, or conversations ignored or walked away from. The mere fact that these kinds of reactions are so prevalent within the Black community speaks to the dysfunction of both the parenting involved and the culture that spawned it.

    The further fact that many of these same children are raised by single parent women, who, themselves, have, more often than not, been arrested or detained on any number of charges and received jail time or house arrest, has then led them to years and years of indoctrination against the police and anyone associated with them. Children raised in this atmosphere are, more often than not, highly disrespectful of “any” authority figures; be they police officers, teachers, counselors, social workers, et al.

    One would have to think that the greater “disproportionate impact on the Black community” would be the fact that a great many of these young males and females all have police records or have been dismissed from class or school grounds for fighting, assault and other infractions, as well as a number of other behavioural problems that have upset the tenor and tone of classroom instruction, often leading to a grave number of their fellow students being duly impacted in not receiving the education they signed up for and leaving them unable to progress further into the current employment diaspora.

    That disparate degree of “un-education” with regard to their fellow White and Asian students and their reading, writing, math and science achievements/scores – should, by all rights – be the standard that Black parents hope to strive for – instead of vilifying the “po-leece” for grievances imagined or taught that law enforcement is their enemy. Should those attitudes ever change, and in a positive direction, so too will you see a definitive change in how Blacks react to schooling and to those in positions of higher authority.

    • You know Mr. VanOrsdale, in my careers/profession as medical imaging director I had many meetings. The staff, whether 130 0r 20 could bring up any concern, any complaint, any opinion on the managing of the medical imaging department. I only had one rule, that after said complaint, it should be followed up with a solution. Solution based meetings. They never failed me in 28 years as department director. Most important, it never failed them. BPM’ing as it was known (Bitch piss and moan) wasn’t welcome. Your comment could be followed up with a solution. If you have one. I have been an advocate for the urban youth for some 16 years. Provided a common sense solution. So far no takers and so far still the same old failing system. Educational leadership that just cannot teach the way kids learn. Probably because the leadership runs on a paycheck and doesn’t seem to know or care on how to teach kids. Because ALL kids have innate skills and gifts, ALL! That said the RCSD/RCSB either doesn’t care to teach or doesn’t know how. That said I have provided a education enhancement that would connect the perceived boring academics with the many, many career and professional opportunities. That responsibility belongs to all of us. I’m NEVER going to stop advocating for the urban kids, because they deserve a piece of the pie as well as you and I.

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