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RPD recruits would be vetted for their ‘cultural fit’ under proposed reform

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Applicants to the Rochester Police Department would be vetted for their “cultural fit” with city residents by a panel of designated civilian interviewers under a proposal unveiled Wednesday by a group recommending law enforcement reforms to city officials.

The group, the United Christian Leadership Ministry Police Reform Proposal Committee, is made up of more than 30 civic leaders and is one of four organizations whose opinions are being sought by city officials tasked with devising a new approach to policing.

Following the racial justice rallies that erupted in Rochester and elsewhere after the killings of Daniel Prude and George Floyd at the hands of police, Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated that every municipality in the state come up with a reform plan by April 1, or risk losing state funding for their police departments.

The recommendations put forth by the United Christian Leadership Ministry committee — led by the Rev. Lewis Stewart — focused on increasing the transparency of local police agencies and establishing a more constructive connection between police and the residents they serve.

A prominent component of the plan would have applicants to the RPD Police Academy be subject to a “Citizens’ Interview Panel,” whose members would determine whether the applicant would advance to the academy for training.

Currently, according to the proposal, the final step before an applicant is accepted to the academy is an interview with the chief of police. The proposal recommends that the civilian panel interviews the candidate prior to the police chief.



“We feel the community should be involved in the hiring of police officers who are going to serve their community,” Stewart said upon unveiling the 42-page proposal.

Stewart added that panelists would judge applicants, in part, on their "cultural fit."

This panel of three people would be selected by the United Christian Leadership Ministry and include people who have professional training in interviewing techniques. Among the pool of interviewers would be a former law enforcement officer and “a mature young person,” according to the proposal. The panel would decide whether to recommend a recruit for admittance into the academy.

Stewart referred to the proposed panel as “true community policing.”

“It empowers the community to take back what is theirs,” he said.

“We are not about defunding the police, and we are not about abolishing the police,” Stewart said. “If anybody needs the police, Black and brown people need the police.”

Stewart said the proposal reflects the UCLM’s desire for police officers to reject what he called a “warrior” mentality that reinforces systemic racism, in favor of an approach that reflects concern and partnership with the community.

“What we are about is reallocating resources so we can have a better-trained police force,” said Stewart.

In order to achieve what Stewart called “dismantling of police culture as it presently is,” the proposal recommends instituting a mandatory, 40-hour per year racial justice education curriculum for both recruits and current police officers. The training would include an overview of the history of policing in Rochester and address the nature of racism as well as 21st-century policing.

“The key for us in all of this is we want something that's beyond just training, but  education,” said the Rev. Norman Roberts, a member of UCLM’s Executive Committee.

The UCLM proposal complements an existing proposal from the Police Accountability Board that was released late last month. Additional proposals are expected to be released by the Rochester Police Department and the Racial and Structural Equity (RASE) Commission in the near future.

The city’s Police Reform and Collaborative Working Group, comprising members from each of the four organizations, will issue a final proposal for consideration by Rochester City Council, which will deliver the plan to the state.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s arts editor. He can be reached at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.
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