Rochester, N.Y. -- The Rochester Police Department released its mid-year crime statistics for 2012 Friday and the numbers show a drastic year-over-year increase in shootings highlighted by what the department calls a "summer shooting spike" in May and June.
In fact, reported shootings in the first half of this year increased 73% over 2011 with police reporting 95 incidents in the first six months of 2012 as compared to just 55 during the same time period last year.
The report also contained good news as it pertained to many other areas of crime. RPD reports the lowest mid-year property crime total in 25 years with thefts, burglary, and overall assaults all dropping between two and eight percent.
Homicides through the end of June totaled 20 and as of Friday afternoon the total was up to 23 for all of 2012. In 2011 RPD counted 14 homicides by the end of June, in 2010 there were also 20 through June.
Chief James Sheppard highlighted what he saw as the most important factor in bringing down the number of shootings and homicides: information from the community.
"We've had shootings in which we've had a hundred witnesses, people involved out on the street see it happen, nobody steps forward and I want to stress the fact that in the police department we're not magicians it takes investigative effort, it takes witnesses to come forward, it takes evidence to solve crimes," Chief Sheppard said at a Friday afternoon media briefing. "There are a number of crimes where we may know who the perpetrator is, however without that evidence, without that key witness, we cannot go forward with that prosecution."
In the city's 23 homicides this year, only two cases are considered closed. In one case, a suspect turned himself in. The other involves four children who died in a fatal fire on Grape Street in February; an arrest was made and prosecution is pending.
"When we start to see bodies drop, when we start to see people getting shot, that's where we're going to focus our efforts- on those groups that are engaged in violence," Chief Sheppard said of his department's current approach to violent crime.
The department is optimistic that recent arrests of members of a suspected gang that associates itself with Roycroft and Carter Streets could go a long way towards quelling the violence. Deputy Chief Michael Wood said the group is suspected of between fifteen and twenty shootings or violent incidents this year and that doesn't include those events where the group's members may have been victims.
"Everyday you look at the news, it's young people dying and it's really sad because you're taking kids' lives that want to do something, that could do something," Anthony Brown of Rochester said while standing near Pulaski Park not far from the Roycroft and Carter Street intersection.
Brown is among those who think RPD should consider bringing back the "Zero Tolerance" approach to crime. The aggressive citywide initiative targeting all crimes and violations was instituted in 2007 by then Police Chief David Moore with the help and support of former Mayor Robert Duffy.
"I would get it back, I would bring it back because when they did have that they didn't have no crime," Brown said of the Zero Tolerance effort. "The crime rate was real low; once they took the Zero Tolerance away the crime rate came back up again."
Yet current Police Chief James Sheppard, who was a Deputy Chief with RPD in 2007, does not see that as the solution.
"I know in my heart that Zero Tolerance is not the way to go because we have a number of people in this city, we have tons of good people. Ninety-nine percent of the people in this city are good people, and to have a process or a philosophy where everybody is held accountable to the same level I think it's going to alienate us from the community we serve," Chief Sheppard responded when asked. "We will have a Zero Tolerance policy for those that we know are engaged in violence or those that are being disruptive in their neighborhoods. Yes we're going to come get them but in terms of having an overall policy it does not serve us well."
Gaining that vital information from witnesses and the community appears to be a key reason behind Chief Sheppard's reason for not returning to that Zero Tolerance approach. It's a philosophy that appears to have support from Monroe County's top prosecutor too.
"We're all part of this community and this community is really hurting at this point and we need people to come forward and give us information so we can make it a safe community," Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said.