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Rochester police struggle with shootings, homicides


If you feel like the City of Rochester has been a more violent place this year, you're right. Though still down from historical highs, homicides and especially shootings have taken an aggressive upswing in 2012.

Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard held a press conference this morning to review third -quarter crime statistics. The news isn't good. Homicides are up 38 percent from this time last year, from 21 in 2011 to 29 in 2012. And shootings are up 79 percent, from 95 in 2011 to 170 in 2012. That exceeds the 10-year average by 14 percent, and is the highest shooting rate in five years.

"So far this year, we've had a very tough time with violent incidents," Sheppard said. "For me, this is painful and frustrating."

As he has said several times before, Sheppard blamed most of the shootings on feuds between individuals and groups. Sheppard and Deputy Chief Mike Wood said most of these people are known to the police department and that officers are targeting them in a number of ways. For example, Wood said, if police don't have the evidence to arrest someone on a shooting, they may have enough evidence to arrest him on a drug charge.

Wood said that in addition to neutralizing the threat, the selective targeting sends a message to other violent groups that they're under scrutiny.

The RPD initiated Operation Cool Down over the summer in response to the surge in shootings and to get guns off the street. Sheppard said the initiative was successful because the city had fewer homicides in the third quarter than it did in the second quarter. There were 20 homicides during the second quarter, and 95 shootings.

Operation Cool Down is over, Sheppard says, but some of the program's tactics are still being used. Cool Down and other police initiatives have drawn scrutiny over whether "proactive policing" -- a term Sheppard uses often -- is really code for racial profiling.

More statistics from today's press conference: Rapes are up from this time last year, from 60 incidents to 66; robberies increased from 521 to 571; aggravated assaults are up from 857 to 875; burglaries dropped from 2,449 to 2,212 -- the RPD has made burglaries a priority, Sheppard said -- and motor vehicle thefts dropped from 544 to 464, the lowest level in a decade.

The RPD has recovered 887 guns so far in 2012; 385 of them were used in the commission of crimes.