Rochester has a gang problem. Everyone knows it, but all too often local leaders and the Rochester Police Department do not like to talk about it. It’s like it’s on some banned word list. People only talk about it behind closed doors, like a cancer diagnosis.
Well, it kind of is like a cancer diagnosis. Certain neighborhoods of our beloved city are plagued with violence. The Boys and Girls Club triple homicide last month. The double homicide over the weekend at the house party on Woodward Street. And all of the other shootings, stabbings, assaults and so on that have happened in between. Incidents too numerous for most people to keep track of. And so they don’t – and gradually it all just becomes part of daily life in the city. It’s like an illness creeping through the streets.
But at what point do we diagnose the problem? At the press conference announcing that a suspect had been charged with murder in connection with the Boys and Girls Club shooting, the Chief of police not once mentioned the four letter word that is behind so much of this crime. It was U.S. Attorney Bill Hochul – based out of Buffalo – who finally said the word: gang. The suspect, like so many others, is in a gang.
It’s been this way for several years. Past police chiefs have done the same thing. In statements to the media they refused to use the word – instead referring to something along of the lines of “group-based violence.” I think it’s time the Rochester Police Department launch an all out war against gangs across the city. Make it public the way Syracuse did. Police there went after gangs, and has seen a steady drop in violent crime over the last eight years. Part of that follows a national trend, but cracking down on gangs certainly didn’t hurt.
Getting gang members off the streets is only part of the solution. There are so many other factors at play: poverty, unemployment, unstable family situations, education level, and so on. But we need to do something. The efforts already underway are great, but clearly they are not enough. I know the RPD is working diligently day and night to tackle gang activity, but it would help if its leader would acknowledge those efforts (and the problem) publicly.