Friday 30 September 2022
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RPD Issues New Policy on Use of Force with Juveniles

Staff report

This image from body worn camera footage shows Rochester police officers encountering a child who ended up being doused with pepper spray. File photo

The Rochester Police Department released a new policy on when and how force can be used on juveniles.

“The Rochester Police Department (RPD) recognizes that juveniles are still in their developmental and learning stages, and early interactions with law can have a lasting impact on their perceptions of the legitimacy of the justice system and trust in law enforcement,” reads General Order 338, Juvenile Use of Force, Handcuffing/Transportation and Medical Assistance.

RPD also updated its policy on use of force separate from juveniles.

The changes were announced Sept. 2 and are part of reforms in response to Executive Order 203, an edict by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo for municipalities to reform and reimagine their policing and public safety.

The policies are being rolled into effect over the year to allow for officers to read the updates.

RPD worked with a consulting firm to assess policies in terms of national best practices, state and federal laws, civil rights investigations and consent decrees. The city is expected to release the full report later this year.

RPD previously released updated policies on an officer’s duty to intervene, the ban on chokeholds, mental hygiene detention and steps for de-escalation.

All the policies are posted on the department’s Open Data Portal at Scroll to “explore department documents” and then to “general orders.”

The general order for use of force with juveniles requires officers to “comport themselves in a manner that will foster healthy relationships with juveniles and lay a strong foundation of trust between RPD and the community it serves.”

The department faced criticism over recent cases in which handcuffs were placed on a child who being led to a police vehicle on an expressway and a child was doused with pepper spray.

The policy includes:

  • Complete definitions related to juvenile use of force, restraint, and aid, including, but not limited to, what constitutes a “juvenile,” de-escalation, age-appropriate/developmentally appropriate, person legally responsible, and status offense.
  • List of prohibited use of force techniques for juveniles including use of chemical agents; use of a baton to strike a juvenile; use of a taser against a juvenile unless the juvenile is assaultive, poses an immediate threat of harm to the officer or others, and there are no reasonable alternatives.
  • Prohibition against handcuffing of juveniles who the officer reasonably believes to be aged 12 and under unless the juvenile presents a danger to themselves or others.
  • If force against a juvenile becomes necessary (as defined in the policy), officers should use only the level of force that is necessary and proportional to the threat.

The use of force policy states that officers “are expected to carry out their duties and act with the highest regard for the preservation of human life and the safety of all persons involved.” The policy replaces the phrase “officer discretion” with formal documented expectations of when force is objectively reasonable, necessary and proportionate.

The policy includes:

  • Complete definitions related to use of force including, but not limited to, aggression, force, resistance, objectively reasonable, necessary force, proportional, totality of the circumstances.
  • A comprehensive list of prohibited use of force techniques includes, but is not limited to, chokeholds, various neck restraints, firing warning shots, or force used as punishment, retaliation, or based on biases.
  • Officers are prohibited from certain levels of force on handcuffed or restrained persons, except under extenuating circumstances (further defined within the policy).
  • Officers are mandated to use de-escalation techniques and tactics, when it is safe and feasible to do so, prior to engaging in approved use of force techniques. This includes a defined goal of gaining voluntary compliance of persons without resorting to the use of force to resolve situations without using force, whenever possible.
  • When the use of force is deemed necessary by the officer (as defined by New York state Penal Law 35) officers must act with due regard for the safety of all persons during any use of force, shall use the least amount of force necessary based on the totality of circumstances (defined in policy) and shall cease using any force once a person becomes compliant.

The following reforms also have been implemented since October 2020:

  • Critical Incident Briefings. In February, RPD released the CIB, a new video format outlining aspects of a critical incident and what the viewer is seeing, why certain tactics were used, etc.
  • Protest Response Plan. After meeting with participants in last year’s protests, a plan was then developed to highlight communication between the community and the police department. The plan was implemented in January 2021.
  • Officer Training. A full evaluation of officer trainings was recently conducted, with the need for additional educational programing on compassion fatigue, de-escalation, mindset training, race relations, pediatrics, ethics, leadership, crisis intervention, excited delirium and mental and behavioral health response identified.
  • Chief’s Advisory Board. A group of professionals that provides knowledge and expertise as needed to address areas that impart the message of the need for trust and transparency by members of the department. A list of advisory board members is in the chief’s 90-Day Progress Report (link).
  • Violence Reduction Initiatives. On March 25, 2021, the Chief announced additional foot and bike patrols and anti-violence details to target locations where violent crime is most prevalent, based upon real-time data and analytics. Section captains also developed individual anti-violence strategies for their sections. An additional violence reduction initiative was initiated that involved working with federal partners to target violent gun offenders. RPD has met with numerous community and faith-based groups, including RocACTS, to identify opportunities for the community to assist in reimagining safety and community relationships. A collaborative draft action has been developed that the Community Affairs Bureau will execute in fiscal year 2021-2022.