ROCHESTER — Georgia Nesmith has walked on Police and Citizens Together Against Crime teams for years on both the east and west sides of the city. During that time, criminals have tried unsuccessfully to dissuade her from that volunteer street patrol by throwing rocks through her windows.
"Now, they see me and they start running," Nesmith said proudly during a Feb 12 meeting to discuss the status of Rochester Police Department foot patrols in high-crime areas. She added that her PAC-TAC experience proves that citizens can regain power over their neighborhoods.
That’s something police officials said they encourage, especially since foot patrols have been scaled back due to winter weather and the need to apply resources to the city’s Zero Tolerance program to reduce violent crime. Efforts such as Zero Tolerance could have a bigger impact, police noted, if more residents followed Nesmith’s lead and refused to let criminals rule their streets.
"The point is to get people to feel safer and get involved … and take back their own geographic areas," Commander Mark Case, who oversees RPD’s eastside division, said during the meeting. "Like in Iraq, teach people to police their own areas."
The foot patrols began two yeas ago through a partnership between the RPD and Interfaith Action, a local federation of business alliances and congregations from several religious denominations, including a number of Catholic churches. During the Feb. 12 meeting, police officials confirmed Interfaith Action members’ observations that the department has scaled back foot patrols in recent months. Case and Commander Mike Wood, who oversees the westside division, assured residents, however, that does not mean foot patrols are gone permanently.
“Foot patrols aren’t going away," Wood stated. "But for us to say we’ll put foot patrols from … (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) in one block of the city is not the most efficient use of our resources right now. It just isn’t."
Nesmith said that more residents need to get more involved in their neighborhoods so as not to waste the foot patrols’ successes — with crime dropping by 70 percent in some of the targeted areas. Wood and Case concurred, and also encouraged residents to call the city’s Neighborhood Empowerment Team offices for more information about community groups in their areas. Monthly training sessions also are available for anyone wanting to join or start a new PAC-TAC team, they said.
"They have made a space for us," Nesmith said during the meeting at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church’s parish hall on Ontario Street. "We have to move into that space. … This is our moment."
Sister Barbara Lum, a member of Interfaith Action, said the group wanted to hear feedback from police after noticing a lack of foot patrols in recent months in the four neighborhoods originally chosen for the initiative.
Those patrols were located in the Lyell Avenue-Otis Street neighborhood, near Holy Apostles Church, and the area around Campbell and Child Street, which is near Holy Family Church. On the east side, the area included Goodman Avenue blocks near Peck and Garson streets, and Woodward, Ontario, North, Scio and other streets surrounding Mt. Carmel.
"Initially, police did not think foot patrols would work," Dick Rozon, an Interfaith Action member, said as he offered background information on the initiative to the more than 30 people who attended the meeting. "They realized they were wrong, and extended foot patrols to 21 areas around the city. After the change in commanders, the foot patrols have dropped off in consistency and frequency."
Zero Tolerance has required a lot of reorganization of resources and police flexibility, Wood said. Already, the initiative has reduced such crimes as robbery, larceny and car thefts, he added. And, he noted, foot patrols remain in the downtown and Monroe Avenue areas as well as periodically around Thurston Road.
"If it’s a tool that can be useful for a period of time to keep violence down, we will do foot patrols," Case stated. "As per continuing patrols in a specific geographic area in inclement weather, that’s not a commitment we’re willing to make."
Case and Wood said they also agree that the perception of safety that foot patrols create has value on its own. Sister Lum said she is worried that perception could change now that there will be fewer regular patrols in the future.
"Just the sight of police is a very reassuring thing," she observed.
The foot patrols did present challenges, Case noted, including pushing crime from one block to another and hindering police officers’ ability to act fast enough to get to an area where they are needed.
Additionally, Interfaith Action’s success in the foot-patrol initiative has prompted requests from other community groups, he added, with only so many officers to go around.
"We need to get (officers) moving quickly," he said. "We’re talking finite resources. After a long time, the effectiveness of what you’ve done is over."