Press for police reform

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The need for comprehensive police reform across New York — already a priority we have advocated for — was underscored by the horrendous episode in which Rochester police handcuffed and pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old Black girl.

Police body-camera footage of the episode on Rochester’s Harris Street is difficult to stomach.

In the videos, published by the Democrat and Chronicle, viewers see a clearly distressed young girl taken into custody as she struggled to make sense of a domestic dispute.

Police acted under New York’s mental hygiene law and took her into custody — ultimately handcuffing her, placing her inside a police vehicle and pepper-spraying her face. She later asked that the handcuffs be removed — but footage of that request has not yet been made public.

We echo a call from the Rochester Police Accountability Board, the independent group tasked with probing the incident, that all of the footage be released.

We have been disturbed by comments from Mike Mazzeo, president of the union that represents Rochester police. Mazzeo, who asked for patience as the Harris Street incident is investigated, has said that department policy on when and how pepper spray is to be used is not clear. Mazzeo, we think, needs to advocate for greater clarity — there should be no questions about how officers interact with emotionally distressed children.

Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan has said this week that police were not required to have used pepper spray. One officer was suspended with pay and two others were placed on administrative leave for their involvement in the Jan. 29 encounter.

Rochester’s leadership — in city government, on the PAB and in the police department — say they are working to address this incident, which follows the Daniel Prude case.

These leaders need help.

It is time for the governor and the Legislature to act. Albany must set a new tone — and must do so with urgency.

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