Rochester has the unfortunate history of once being the homicide capital of the country with the most homicides per capita compared with the rest of the US. Although crime rates have been dropping since 1992, reaching an all time low in 2011, we still have over 13,000 instances of crime ever year, with violent crimes such as homicide, rape, and robbery on a steady rise.
In order to spear head the crime rate the city’s police force has tried a number of different tactics. Programs such as “Stop and Frisk” and “The Cool Down” has been ill received as many say that these programs are in violation of citizens rights. This year the city is taking a more grass roots approach to how they handle the crime rate in the city. The Voice of the Citizen is a series of community meetings that allow the community to tell the city how to fix our infamous crime rate.
The second meeting of The Voice of the Citizen took place January 15th at the Carter St Community Center. I decided to attend and view first hand the meetings that will determine how our city approaches violence in 2013.
I got to the meeting just as everyone was finding a seat. The community center was pack with citizens, police officers, and press. Mayor Richards spoke first, greeting everyone and explaining the importance of community action against crime. Chief Sheppard was up next, going over last year’s crime statistics. Even though aggravated assaults and burglary had significantly dropped this year, over all crime still increased 1% over the course of this year.
There were 4 stations located at each corner of the auditorium, each representing 4 categories that the city wanted to focus on this year, Open air drug deals, Gangs and the culture of violence, truancy and bullying, and house parties. After they mayor and chief spoke we were encouraged to decide which category we cared about the most and talk with people at the table to come up with solution to the problem. I couldn’t decide which station to focus on so I spent my time floating from one station to another listening to what the input people had.
The cross section of people was what you would expect at a meeting like this, concerned citizens, experts, teachers, and crackpots with a chip on their shoulder. The crackpots were the first to speak, using the time to yell at the police and community leaders, or suggest policies that included disbanding the entire police force and political structure in lieu of citizen enforcers, arresting anyone who threw a house party, or blaming video games on every issue of violence.
Thankfully these arguments were short lives and constructive talks soon took over. Soon each group’s poster board became full of ideas and proposals as more and more people came forward with their own experiences and opinions. Two hours of cooperation, passionate arguments, and discourse later each table was ready to share their ideas with the rest of the auditorium.
The solutions each group came up with range a broad spectrum from what police could do, police responsibility in the city, family values, and suggested city programs. What caught my attention was that many of the solutions to each problem focused on three main issues, poverty, lack of a career path, and family values. None of which the police force had very much to do with, but what the city and each community could focus on. It made me think about how we cannot simply isolate the problems with our city, but how we must focus on rising up as a whole. We weren’t discussing a police issue; we were discussing a slew of issues we all have to address as a city.
There are two remaining Voice of The Citizen meetings taking place in the next month. After all of the meetings commence, the city will take the most reoccurring ideas and create a brochure outlining the plan for this year. Mayor Richards spoke briefly at the end of the meeting stressing the importance of the community and its people to help solve the problems our city faces. While this is true, I will also be interested to see how many of our ideas they city and its police force actually implements over the course of 2013. I hope some of the ideas proposed come to fruition and these meetings don’t end up and a façade to cover up business as usual on the city’s part.