By Tracie Isaac & Patti Singer
La’Ron Singletary was confirmed on June 19, 2019 in a unanimous vote by the City Council as the new Chief of Police of the Rochester Police Department. Mayor Lovely A. Warren made the announcement in early April of this year that Singletary was the unanimous selection from an internal and nation-wide search for the next Chief of Police. He was promoted to Deputy Chief until the confirmation by City Council.
From early childhood to his teen years as a police Explorer, La’Ron Singletary was focused on being a police officer. He joined the police force at the age of 19 and rose through the ranks from an intern to the top seat in the city’s law enforcement department. Chief Singletary may be the youngest Chief of Police in Rochester’s history. He brings nineteen-years of experience with the RPD, a fresh view on strengthening relationships and engagement between the community and the RPD, encouraging careers in law enforcement and more.
The Minority Reporter spoke with Chief Singletary at the Public Safety Building to hear some of his thoughts and strategies for the RPD.
Q: What was your view of community relations and the RPD from your youth versus today and what made you go into law enforcement?
A: Growing up, one of the reasons why I wanted to be a police officer is because of the D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance and Education) teacher and program in the classroom. The D.A.R.E. Officer was Lucille Everett at School #37. It wasn’t just about drug abuse and education, it was about building relationships in the classroom. I think today, sometimes what you see in the RPD is trying to find that balance between officer Friendly and enforcing the law. It is a delicate balance and I think that is what we try to find today, the balance. One of my missions is to try to bridge that gap between officers and youth. When I was promoted to Deputy Chief of RPD last year, the Mayor asked me to come up with a Community Policing Plan Part of that Community Policing Plan was to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community. When you talk about perception versus perspective I think that I am in a unique position to try to offer that perspective. Often we see so much going on across the country with regard to social media, things happen in other places such as the incident that happened recently in Phoenix, AZ and I watched some footage on that. We are trying to get people see police officers in a different light, as well as trying to find that mutual respect on both sides.
Q: With the Police Accountability Board (PAB), you’ve just had one of your police officers found guilty and he was terminated. So when you’re talking about Officer Friendly, law enforcement, police officers and the PAB coming up, how does all of that mesh as a new leader takes over?
A: As you’ve just said, we’ve had an officer who was terminated from the RPD. We are obviously going through the PAB. One of the things I always express and continue to press is that whatever the public wants is going to referendum in the fall, whatever legislation is passed, my job is to implement it. What I ask is that it is fair on both sides, fair for the police and fair for the community as a whole. Any agency that believes it does not need oversight is an agency that has already failed. I believe most police officers are not saying that we don’t need oversight. But, I also think the true issue is the public wants to know what happens when a police officer is found guilty or has a sustained case against them. I think a lot of that goes to Civil Service Law 50A which protects the police officers personnel file. One of the things of the PAB is that my personal belief is that the power of discipline, power of disposition of an Internal Affairs case should lie with the Police Chief. With regard to trying to change an organization and having complete control over the organization. But we certainly do need checks and balances. I do understand that. My job as Chief is to implement whatever the community wants. We will do that and I’d like to see that it is fair for both sides.
Q: Are there any initiatives currently that will enhance the PAB development or will there be something new to enhance police accountability?
A: I think certainly having a new Chief of Police, as City Council takes their vote tonight. I think with a new chief comes new management, ideas, new opportunities, new vision. We are in the process of promoting a significant number of people within the department. Whenever you have promotion opportunities it brings new leadership, new ideas, new principles, new values to the organization. One thing for me is that I am going to concentrate on our core values which I am going to re-implement, PRIDE. It is what we wear on our patch and it is on our cars. PRIDE stands for professionalism, respect, integrity, dedication and excellence. That is what I believe in, what I am going to preach up and down the ranks of the RPD. Part of that is me being out there with the troops. I went to Roll calls, I’ll continue to go to Roll Calls. I have conversations with the officers about what my expectations are and what the public expects. Part of being a good leader is instilling the values that I believe that are going to make this organization successful.
Q: Do you think having a diverse patrol team will close the divide between officers and the communities where they are assigned?
A: Absolutely. I think the department needs to reflect the community that it serves. It is something that is always talked about. One of the things that I want to do in the RPD is a Post Academy where we have two weeks where it is strictly RPD education. As you know we have a multi-jurisdictional academy, six months occurs in the classroom and four months of field training. At the end of the six months there is an opportunity for RPD to become specific to what it wants to do. What I’m looking to do is build cultural competency. I want to have a day where recruits understand the history of policing from a national and local perspective. We have a lot of milennials who were not around for the Rodney King incident occurred in Los Angeles. So, what I want to do is offer those individuals who may not be familiar with the urban environment of Rochester to go visit organizations like Ibero-American Action League, the Baobab Culture Center on University Avenue, Action For a Better Community, the Jewish Federation. Because Rochester is a melting pot, in order to police this entity officers should understand something about these communities. Also, I’d like to have a Day of Service, I believe in Service before Self. For our youth, we have a lot of millenials who are very good at social media, but what are we doing to get them to communicate more, it’s about relationships, relationships, relationships.
Q: Is there a residency requirement?
A: It is against state law or for me to have any authority on where an officer lives. Certainly, I think it helps, possibly to know where you are from. I don’t think necessarily it is the end all to be all to do the job. The job is to protect and serve. We have many police officers who may have grown up in the city of Rochester and may have chosen to live outside of the city. That does not mean that they do not care less about the city in which they grew up in.
Q: What is the relationship of education and public safety and what does the City School District have to do with youth on the streets?
A: I think there is a direct correlation between education and public safety. Sometimes what we find is that there are individuals who are not in school and are out on the streets for whatever reason. That is why I plan to have conversations with School Superintendent Terry Dade. I am excited about the conversation that we are going to have. …with my experience as an RCSD graduate, certainly there is a correlation when you have individuals who do not graduate from high school, it certainly limits their success and has an effect on the community. One of the things we have to do in the RPD is market our selves. We need to give an opportunity to some of the youth and let them understand what we have to offer. In order to do that, we have to direct them so that they will stay on the right path. That is one of the reasons I want to get back in to the classrooms. We do have great opportunities in the RPD, Fire Department and 911 center. The city of Rochester just launched a three tier approach to hiring for the public safety departments. I think a lot of youth don’t understand that you need a high school diploma or G.E.D. To become a police officer. We certainly want youth to have higher education, but when you talk about retiring in 20-years or longer and getting a check for the rest of your life, and being a part of something greater than yourself. We can offer these opportunities to our youth, They will be able to take care of their families, there are positions where they can make six figures – that is huge and I think many of our youth don’t have the understanding of what this job can do for you.