Rochester, N.Y.—It’s something Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard calls a “new way of doing business”. On Monday, Sheppard explained that his department would start hand-delivering letters to the city’s known gang members.
“We’re not sending random letters to all gang members,” Sheppard explained. “We’re communicating with particular gangs—gangs we know are being violent. Ones we know have shot and put bodies on the street. We’re focusing on them.”
In the letters, Sheppard explains that law enforcement has intensified their surveillance and monitoring of the gang member and their friends.
The letters states that police know who the gang member is and who their friends are. Then it goes on to explain that state and federal law enforcement agencies are assisting RPD to target those involved in firearms violence.
Sheppard explains that these efforts are in response to an 80 percent increase in violent incidents and shootings during the first part of the year last year.
“We’re not sending threats,” Sheppard said. “We’re basically sending out explanations. ‘This is why you have been targeted. This is why you see the police activity that you see. You can communicate to your peers and those being violent in your group that it’s not going to be tolerated.’”
The department hopes that letting gang members know that they have been identified and targeted by police may prevent them from committing more crimes.
“We know who they are. We know their associates. We know where they hang. We have all this information at play. We may not have enough information at the beginning of our efforts to make arrests, but we have enough information to know that they are involved in a group that has been involved in shootings that have put bodies on the ground.”
This new tactic of communicating with gang members is similar to Operation Ceasefire—a program implemented in 2003. Sheppard says that the department lost focus on Operation Ceasefire over the years and is now working to revive the program.
Keenan Allen was the executive director of Pathways to Peace at the time Operation Ceasefire started. Allen assisted in helping the men and woman who wanted to transition out of gang membership.
Allen says that Operation Ceasefire was successful because, like the letters, it let gang members know that they were on the police department’s radar, thus scaring the.
While some gang members may choose to simply ignore the letters delivered to them, Allen says some may actually use it as a chance to stop their violent behavior.
“I can tell you that historically, when Operation Ceasefire was done, when people did not heed the warning [from police] they were targeted by police and dealt judiciously. Hopefully, they will take it seriously.”