ROCHESTER — As pastor of an inner-city cluster of parishes, Father Vincent Panepinto knows children in Rochester’s urban neighborhoods often face potentially dangerous situations. He didn’t fully understand the gravity of their plight, however, until he drove through the city one morning in 2005.
“I saw children waiting at bus stops with prostitutes and drug dealers nearby at 7 in the morning,” said Father Panepinto, pastor of Community of the Blessed Trinity, which comprises Corpus Christi, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier parishes.
In August Father Panepinto’s congregation and other members of Interfaith Action, a local federation of churches and business alliances, formed a partnership with the Rochester Police Department, and in mid-September the partners launched the Foot Patrol Initiative.
The Rochester Police Department announced in August that it would add 31 officers — including some new police-academy graduates — for increased foot patrols through four city neighborhoods with high crime rates, including those surrounding several Catholic churches. These areas include the Lyell Avenue neighborhood near Otis Street, which is home to Holy Apostles and Holy Family churches; Campbell and Child streets on the west side; the Goodman Avenue blocks near Peck and Garson streets; and Woodward, Ontario, North, Scio and other streets surrounding Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on the east side.
Through the one-year project, the officers not only patrol these areas, but also establish relationships and build trust with residents, which is an important part of creating safe neighborhoods, Chief David Moore said during an Oct. 11 press conference about the foot patrols.
“Mayor (Robert) Duffy and I are very committed to making the City of Rochester the safest mid-sized city within the country,” Moore said. “I believe, personally, that foot patrols are a very effective means of reducing violence.”
The plan and its specific targeted neighborhoods will be evaluated monthly with help from the newly created Public Safety Initiatives Center. City officials announced in August that the center will use staff from Rochester Institute of Technology and will develop comprehensive anti-crime policies based on data and research on crime patterns.
Police and community leaders have been holding monthly strategy meetings since September, and in mid-November local churches and community organizations will conduct a community-wide safety survey, said Brian Kane, executive director of Interfaith Action. This survey will be used as a benchmark for the foot patrols, and another survey will be conducted near the end of the initiative’s one-year term.
“Once both of those surveys are done and we assess them, we hope (the results) will have a positive impact on continuing the initiative another year,” Kane said.
Moore and Duffy will ultimately be the ones to decide whether to extend the foot-patrol initiative for another year, Kane added.
Although they’ve only been in effect for a short time, Father Panepinto said the foot patrols have already made a difference in the streets around Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
“There are certain spots all of us knew of where drugs were sold,” Father Panepinto said, noting that now “those are clear.”