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Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan Returns to RPD as Interim Chief

Patti Singer

Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan was named interim chief of the Rochester Police Department on Sept. 26, 2020 by Mayor Lovely Warren, right. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said she left law enforcement in 2009 so she could do more to keep people out of jail.

Since then, she has worked on programs to reduce school suspensions, was chief executive officer at the nonprofit Rise Up Rochester, and worked on national drug court initiatives.

As of Oct. 14, she will return as interim chief of the Rochester Police Department, at a time when the public and those in policing are reevaluating what law enforcement means and how best to ensure public safety.

“I know these are tough times,” she said after Mayor Lovely Warren announced the appointment on Sept. 26.

Herriott-Sullivan is the first woman to lead the RPD. She retired in 2009 with the rank of lieutenant.

She takes over as protesters have clamored for change after news of the death of Daniel Prude. The RPD command staff stepped down, either retiring or requesting transfers to previously held positions.

As a start to fill those vacancies, Warren promoted Capt. Gabriel Person to Deputy Chief of Operations. Person started with RPD in 2005 and is current position is staff duty officer of the third platoon.

Officer Moses Robinson was appointed to the command staff as part of a team being assembled to work in community engagement and violence reduction. Robinson joined the RPD in 1985 and works as a crime prevention officer in the Community Affairs Bureau. Prior to that, he worked as a school resource officer.

Those positions take effect no later than Oct. 14.

Since April 2019, Herriott-Sullivan has served as the interim deputy executive director of the Rochester Housing Authority. Prior to that role, she worked for the agency on compliance, diversity, inclusion and public safety.

After the mayor’s announcement, Herriott-Sullivan held a brief news conference. Here is what she said, edited for space and clarity:

Having been out of the department since 2009, can you talk about stepping back in at this time?

One of the paths I followed more recently on that community task force the helped write the new code of conduct that decreased suspensions in the (Rochester City School) district. … It’s not just dealing with the outcomes When we can see over and over again what the causes are, we need to take a look at that and have more of a hand in addressing the problem so that we don’t keep seeing the same people over and over again. Obviously, I love the city, I was hurting for our cyt. Dinr ght eitme I’m here if I can help, I’ll put that knowledge to good use.

Do you see this as potentially a long-term appointment?

Technically, the role is interim. They’re going to do a search, which they should. Who knows, I may apply. I take interim for what it is and that’s one year. I’ve got a year to do the best I can to help the department and the city and get things on track.

What can be accomplished in a year?

I’ll say a lot … looking at policies, looking at the command structure Can we make changes so that we have better use of our resources? There’s so much you can be able to do. Putting people in the right position, the right fit. There’s a wealth of things that can be done.

Why come back?

I won’t tell you that overnight I thought gee I want to do this. My first thought as a woman of faith is what do I bring to the table. How can I help. Am I the right person at the right time. … I left policing to do more work with helping the criminal justice systems work smarter with their resources. … We have to find solutions to what the clear issues are. … If we see something wrong and we know that the cause is, we have to find a way to make it work.

Who started the conversation, the mayor or you?

We’ve had conversations on policing in general. She may have said something like you should think about it. But when the conversation started it wasn’t an initial formal offer. But that’s something I like about her. She’s willing to listen. You can talk, discuss ideas, and it grows from there.

What is your assessment of the situation with Daniel Prude?

I want to read the case, I want to read all the reports, I want to look at all of the video, then I’ll feel more comfortable about having an assessment there. I’m not one to make comments unless I’ve done my homework.

How will you, as a Black woman, affect decision-making on issues such as crime?

When I don’t have the uniform on, I get treated the same way and sometimes that not always a great experience. I’ve been followed around in a store. But I don’t let it bother me. In one instance, the guy was clearly following me around in a clothing store. I went over to him and I pulled out my badge and I showed it to him. We had a chuckle over it. I said I’m sure you’ve got better things to do, so I just as soon free you up …. I don’t take it personally but the experience certainly is something I can relate to.

How do you plan to build better relation with the protesters and the community?

I know there are some really great officers that do a good job … they take their oath seriously and care about the community. I also know some of those protesters. They’re people I know, people I love, they’re friends. None of the ones I know would throw a frozen water bottle to try to hurt somebody. I’m not talking about those people. I’m talking about the folks that care about this community and want to see change. I know both sides. That’s what I can bring to the table to get us talking. … It’s not always about race. There has to be a level of trust. You have to have a reputation for doing the right thing, for wanting to be ethical about certain solutions and we start with that. … I’m under no belief that just because I stand here as a Black woman that suddenly we’re going to be able to solve the problem.

Will you meet with protesters?

Definitely. We’ve got to have a discussion, we’ve got to start somewhere. … We have to be able to talk to each other or we’re nog going to be able to address this or come to any kind of solution or understanding. It’s got to start with that. I don’t know a shortcut. …

Do you think there has not been that conversation?

I don’t know that. Until I’ve done my research, talked to more people, then I’ll have a better sense of what people’s positions are. Some things, it may be that neither side is wrong. It might be misunderstanding on certain issues. I need to do my homework.

Capt. Gabriel Person was promoted to Deputy Chief of Operations on Sept. 26, 2020. Interim Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan is at left. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group
Officer Moses Robinson was promoted Sept. 26, 2020 to the command staff as part of a new team on community engagement and violence reduction. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group