Community seeks solutions as Rochester hits homicide record

Monroe County

'Tomorrow it could be one of your family members'

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Three young people were killed Thursday in two separate incidents in Rochester. It brings the city’s homicide total to 71 this year, making it the deadliest year on record for the Flower City.

Two people—a teenager and a man in his early 20s—were shot and killed early Thursday in an apartment building. The victims have not yet been identified and there are currently no suspects in custody.

Later Thursday, a man in his 20s was beaten and shot outside a Rochester train station. He was taken to an area hospital where he later died. Investigators said that two suspects, both believed to be in their 20s, approached the victim around 1 p.m. The suspects are not in custody.

Although not a homicide, another man was shot and left with life-threatening injuries Thursday night. Officers responded to the area for reports of a shooting around 7:30 p.m. Investigators said the victim arrived at Rochester General Hospital via private vehicle with at least one gunshot wound to the upper body. No suspects are in custody.

The yearlong spike in violence has the city grasping for answers. Rochester police officials said the violence cannot end until the community comes together. They’re asking locals with information to call 911.

“We are extremely frustrated,” said Rochester Police Capt. Frank Umbrino. “It has to stop. It’s worse than a war zone around here lately, and we want the community to stand up. Stand beside us. The community has to get fed up with this and the way they can do that, or one of the ways you can do that, is to continue to feed us information. They know some of their family members—or if they see somebody with a gun, or you see something like that, you need to call 911. You need to, because today, it was the young man hanging out outside of the bus station who got killed. But tomorrow it could be one of your family members.”

Rochester Mayor-elect Malik Evans released a statement Thursday regarding the local violence, saying in part:

“Violence in our city has become an all too common occurrence. We are in a state of emergency and we must have a ‘whole community’ approach to solve this issue. As part of my transition, we will be pulling together all who are willing to help tackle the scourge of violence in our community. The government cannot and will not solve this problem alone.”

Former Rochester Police Chief Dr. Cedric Alexander—now a national crime prevention consultant—said the issue of violence is not something police can solve alone. “Police cannot fix this by themselves, and let me be very clear about that,” he said.

Alexander was deputy chief for the Rochester Police Department from 2002 to 2005, then chief from 2005 to 2006. He said the violence is being exacerbated by a number of issues: the pandemic, bail reform, poverty, and access to education. Right now, he said, it’s all hands on deck. “We have to do something to stand together against this, we’ve got to do more than just march in the streets,” he said.

In 1991, Rochester had 69 homicides, the previous record holder for murders. Alexanders said violent years come in waves. “It is up, but it’s not quite up like it was in the early 90s,” he said. “In a year or two, it will go down, and it goes back up, it goes down, it goes back up.”

But, he said we have to look at trends specific to 2021. If they become normalized, we’re in trouble. “We want to make sure this just doesn’t become a normal trend for us,” he said.

The national conversation on police reform needs to happen, he said. Alexander also said police can’t do everything. “We need to define exactly what it is we want police to do in this 21st-century,” he said.

He said more needs to be done to stand up social service organizations to engage problem neighborhoods. A whole community working together he said can solve this. “Rochester’s challenged on a whole lot of different levels,” he said. “Violence cannot be tolerated in our communities.”

A community-led workshop this Thursday addressed how to reach youth, how to set them up for success, and how to deescalate tensions. “When we came out of pandemic, we saw more young people hurt, more traumatized, more damaged than they’ve been,” said Doug Ackley, of Teen Empowerment.

Part of the discussion Thursday involved how to be a father or mother figure for those without one. “Lack of fathers in the household. The family structure is very important,” said Randy Rudolph, a Rochester City School District teacher.

James Vanbrederode—Chief of Police Chiefs in Monroe County—said he’s all for long-term solutions, but his priority is just getting through a day without loss of life. “How are we going to get through the next 48 hours to make sure there’s not a murder?” he said. “How are we going to get through the next 72 hours?”

Data from Rochester Police shows homicide numbers are up, but larcenies and burglaries are down. Vanbrederode believes fewer people report nonviolent crimes because there are simply fewer consequences. He and other members of law enforcement have been criticizing bail reform for months—especially when it relates to known violent offenders out on the street.

“We get the mindset of not incarcerating people, but you got to give the criminal justice system resources, alternatives to incarceration, the halfway houses, boarding homes for kids,” said Vanbrederode. “They’re still out there but all empty. Drug court is pretty much a new point right now. Nobody is choosing drug court because they don’t have to. ‘I’m not going to be put in jail,'” he said.

Activists like Rudolph said a solution to violence doesn’t involve the criminal justice system. “Criminal justice system to me really doesn’t work. I believe it first starts off with their relationship with God,” said Rudolph. “We got to first reach them before we can teach them.”

Rudolph said that in the past year there’s been tension everywhere. Not just among teens, but among policy makers and police officers, Democrats and Republicans. Working to find a solution, he said, will have to involve a community, and a society, coming together somehow.

According to Umbrino, the homicides per year in Rochester date back as far as 1970. he said record-keeping beforehand wasn’t quite as reliable as it is today. The homicides per year in Rochester, according to police, are as follows:

202171 (to date)

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