Brian Sharp and Sean Lahman Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.
ROCHESTER — The abrupt retirement of Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and the departure of his entire command staff sent shockwaves through the community Wednesday and raised many questions about the future of the department.
The actions came six days after news of Daniel Prude’s death became public. Community activists had been calling for Singletary’s resignation.
The looming leadership vacancy raises many questions.
Who is in charge?
Singletary’s retirement letter said he will remain on the job until Sept. 29, barring additional changes before that date.
At a hastily called press conference Tuesday afternoon, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said that the timing of the resignations was difficult, but that she would work with City Council to chart a path forward.
“I know that there are many questions, but this just occurred and I honestly don’t have the answers today,” Warren said.
Among the first steps would be naming an interim police chief, but the departure of the command staff leaves a leadership void across the top of the department’s organizational chart.
The RPD is divided into three bureaus, each of which was commanded by a deputy chief: Operations (Joseph Morabito), Administration (Mark Simmons) and Community Affairs (Mark Mura).
Cmdr. Fabian Rivera headed RPD’s patrol division, the largest unit in the Operations bureau. Cmdr. Ellen Correia led the department’s administrative services division, and Henry Favor oversaw the department’s special operations division, which includes RPD’s SWAT team and scuba unit, K-9 and mounted patrol units and major crimes investigations.
Each of those vacancies will need to be filled, perhaps on an interim basis to start.
Who will take over as chief?
The city has faced this challenge before, albeit under much different circumstances.
Since Bob Duffy retired to launch his campaign for Rochester mayor in March 2005, the city has named an interim police chief on five occasions. Four of them — Timothy Hickey (2006), James Sheppard (2010), Michael Ciminelli (2013), and Mark Simmons (2018) — had served as deputy chief before their appointments.
But with the entire command staff departing, it raises questions about who from within the department could be tapped to ascend.
The highest-ranking sworn officers remaining on the force are the 14 men serving at the rank of captain. They include Frank Umbrino, 48, who heads the Central Investigation Section; John Koonmen, 52, who heads the Special Investigations Section; and Ray Dearcop, 52, who is in charge of the Special Operations Section.
One of the other current RPD captains had filed retirement papers in July, to take effect in October.
Mike Mazzeo, head of the union that represents Rochester police officers, said he thought it might be difficult to fill the job vacancies from within the department given the current landscape.
“If you’re asked to be in one of those spots you probably have to ask, ‘Is this a good career move?'” Mazzeo said at a Wednesday afternoon press briefing. “So, I don’t know who you’re going to get to step up into [those jobs].”
However, Mazzeo said he would prefer to see people promoted from within.
“Will we have seven strangers walk in that are going to know our community and have all the answers? How long will it take them to get up to speed?” Mazzeo asked. “We’ve had chiefs come in from other areas and that didn’t work out too well.”
What’s the process for naming a new chief?
The mayor is empowered to appoint a new police chief, but that choice must be confirmed by the Rochester City Council.
Council President Loretta Scott and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said they would meet in the coming days to determine the next steps in selecting an interim and a new permanent chief. Details have not yet been announced.
“There will be leadership,” Scott said, noting that City Council will work with Rochester’s administration “to move as quickly as possible to take steps necessary to fill the void that exists on the chief level.”
And City Council has searched for police chiefs previously — mostly recently in 2018 and 2019 after then-Chief Michael Ciminelli left the job in September 2018 to take a post with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The city worked with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct a nationwide search for Ciminelli’s replacement, ultimately choosing an internal candidate in Singletary.
“Personnel changes happen,” Scott said, ” the timing of it is what makes it a bit disturbing.”
How will these changes impact reform efforts?
Having a clean slate of openings on the command staff presents some opportunities as well as challenges.
Former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson said Wednesday an outside search made sense. The city faced a similar challenge when then-Chief Gordon Urlacher and members of his senior staff were indicted on federal charges, leaving the department in disarray. Johnson hired Robert Warshaw, who had been chief in North Carolina, to lead the Rochester Police Department.
“You’ve got to really take the temperature of the department and find out who will they take leadership from because, right now, they feel they are under siege,” Johnson said.
But clearly, Johnson said, there are deep-rooted issues within the department that need to be addressed.
“The training is lacking in compassion and empathy,” Johnson said, “and there are issues with people who knew what happened and didn’t tell.”
Willie Lightfoot, vice president of City Council and chair of the public safety committee, said Wednesday that some of the leadership positions held by the command staff were very community-driven and key to shaping the future of the department.
“The mayor has the ultimate responsibility to do this work, I don’t want to diminish that,” Lightfoot said Wednesday. “I think it would be wise to work together along with Council and the community to begin a process going forward of rebuilding the trust as well as filling those positions.”
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