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Police In Rochester, New York Are Sending Stern But Polite Letters To Gang Members
March 21, 2013
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Photo: Via the Rochester Police Department

The Rochester Police Department is trying a novel way of getting through to the criminal element: a stern but polite letter.

The city's police chief is sending them out to gang members saying police are watching their every move, but also that they "care about [them] as individuals".

The letters say that everyone in the city deserves "to live freely without the threat of gun violence".

And that "too many people have died or continue to be shot unnecessarily in our city. No doubt you know someone who has met this fate over the years."

"We're not sending out threats," Police Chief James Sheppard said. "We're basically sending out explanations."

Sheppard says he knows many gang members won't even read the letters, but he says it's just another way to send a message to gangs.

"We want them to know we know who the groups are, we want them to know we know who the members are, we want them to know we know who the violent ones are in those groups," Sheppard told WHEC News.

Here's an excerpt from one of the letters.

"This is a very important letter that I want you to read carefully and completely. I am sure you are aware of intensified law enforcement activity focused on you, your friends, or others close to you. I would like to explain why this has happened, what must take place to make it stop, and what you can do to help.

First, understand we know who you are and who your friends are."

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Photo: WHEC News Rochester

According to Sheppard, "the violence has changed. There was a time when gangs would beat you down... fights [would have] five guys against five... now it's 'boom, boom boom', that's the difference," he says.

Another problem is the culture of silence as far as reporting crime. "The community would be safer if me as a bad person, knew you would tell on me," Sheppard says.

According to the Division of Criminal Justice Statistics Office of Research and Performance, Rochester - with a population of 210,855 - reported 36 murders last year.

By comparison, Toronto - with nearly 2.7 million people - had 54 homicides for the same year. Rochester's homicide rate is more than 8 times higher than the average city in Canada.

The chief tells WHEC News that guns are a big problem, saying "our focus will be on the violent groups. We're going to focus on their friends, the people closest to them."

Rochester Police aren't saying how many letters have been sent out. And the chief says this is part of a multi-pronged approach.

Police are also sending out officers to talk to parents, grandparents and friends of those suspected of criminal activity - hoping that gang members can be swayed and will think before they act.

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