On Friday, Jan 29, RPD responded to a family disturbance. The child, a 9-year-old girl, was expressing signs of a mental health crisis, reportedly showing the intent to harm herself and her mother.
Tasked with calming the individuals down and getting the girl mental health assistance, footage of the RPD shows violent verbal and bodily language, with the girl thrashing in the arms of the unnamed officers as they attempted to escort her to the police vehicle.
Regarded as noncompliant and complaining, she is warned that she will be pepper sprayed. While the girl is not in the state of mind to be taking direct threats as orders, she was seen as resisting arrest, and subsequently maced.
“It’s terribly sad to hear about incidents like these. My heart goes out to that little girl and her family. The little girl, herself, had to remind the officers: “I am a child,” when told to “stop acting like a child,” according to reporting in the Washington Post,” states Dr. Karen Porter, a sociology professor at Alfred University.
The footage, released quickly into the public, disturbed and upset many viewers who called for action against the officers. Reminiscent of the homocide of Daniel Prude in March 2020, which continues to fuel disparity toward the police department, Rochester citizens took to the streets to protest the perceived negligent action. The mother of the 9-year-old girl is reportedly planning to sue the city.
“The Rochester PD has a long and ugly history of racial bias and now, it seems, treating mentally ill adults, in the case of Daniel Prude, and even children, as criminals,” continued Dr. Porter. “I am hopeful the new Police Accountability Board in Rochester will get a chance to weigh in and provide leadership and guidance on these critical issues regarding urgently needed police reform.”
In response, Monday, February 1st, 2021, Mayor Lovely Warren suspended the three officers involved with the case. Warren claims this is the minimum of what the officers will be faced with, pending further investigation.
This is another incident in a growing public identification of mental health unpreparedness on behalf of police departments across the country. Requests for mental health professionals to be on-call for these incidents are not new developments, however cases over the summer of 2020 and early 2021 have exacerbated them.
“There needs to be additional training in de-escalation and non-violent crisis intervention,” Dr. Danielle Gagne, a psychology professor at Alfred University said. “In general, police departments are charged with maintaining order [and] upholding laws—they are dedicated to ‘protect and serve,’ and many join the force from a genuine desire to make their community a better and safer place. They willingly walk into myriad [of] situations that could jeopardize their lives at any given moment, and so are trained to respond quickly and decisively. However, […] often their instinct is ‘kill or be killed,’ leading to responses that are sometimes grossly out of proportion to the perceived threat.”
Mayor Warren, on February 5th, 2021, has proposed reforms for the RPD. Warren, focused on protecting the sanctity of human life, is planning to rectify the situations that have caused Rochester, and its police department, to be scrutinized.
“There is a greater [need] for mental health awareness and intervention than ever before,” said Dr. Danielle Gagne, continuing in regard to campus, “First, we need to fund our mental health services fully. We need more counselors—we have far more students seeking mental health than we have counselors available. Our current counselors are doing their best—many have heavy caseloads, and the number of students in crisis is increasing as COVID-related factors create additional stress[ors].”
Alfred University, and in that same vein the whole community of Alfred, has resources for those in need, and they are waiting to expand in order to create a safer environment for those experiencing mental health concerns or crises.
By Sam Sage