The Police Accountability Board in Rochester, New York, is calling for fundamental changes in the city’s police department after police said a Black mother was pepper-sprayed during an arrest, which body camera footage showed took place in front of her 3-year-old child.
The incident is the latest involving Rochester police officers that have prompted widespread criticism and condemnation.
Bodycam footage from the February 2, 202 incident shows an officer, responding to a shoplifting complaint, confronting a woman, who is seen holding the toddler.
The woman proceeds to show the officer the inside of her purse, insisting that she did not steal anything.
The video shows the officer asking the woman to wait with him, but she runs away with the child in her arms. The officer then chases her down the street, tackles her in a parking lot, and restrains her.
The child can be seen wandering and crying amid the struggle until another officer arrives at the scene and pulls the child away.
In a statement, the Rochester Police Department said the officers were responding to a report of a female shoplifter who was “arguing with store employees and refusing to leave.”
The woman who was pepper-sprayed matched the description of the suspect in the complaint, police said.
“The child was not pepper-sprayed or injured during the arrest,” the statement continues. “The female was charged with trespassing and given an appearance ticket.”
The officer in question has been placed on administrative duty until an internal investigation is completed, police said.
The Rochester Police Department has not responded to a request for comment.
Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriot-Sullivan said during a news conference on Friday that it appears that the officers were following department policy on pepper spray, which is allowed if the individual is “physically resisting.”
But questions are being raised about the need for the use of such force.
The department has been under fire since the death of Daniel Prude last year, a Black man who was having a mental health crisis.
Rochester police officers handcuffed him and covered his head with a “spit sock” after he spat on officers, according to the bodycam footage.
In another encounter on January 29, body camera footage showed Rochester officers handcuffing and pepper-spraying a 9-year-old while responding to what police said was a report of “family trouble.”
Another incident occurred in May 2020 when a 10-year-old girl was handcuffed during a traffic stop.
The Police Accountability Board, which held a news conference on Friday to address the incident, said the department needs to “fundamentally change its organizational culture.”
The board said there are “troubling parallels” between the February 22 incident and the pepper-spraying of the 9-year-old in January.
“Both incidents involved Black mothers. Both involved Black children. Both involved Black people obviously in crisis. Both involved officers using pepper spray on or around a Black child,” the board’s statement reads.
The Rochester Police Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rochester Police Executive Deputy Chief Andre Anderson said during the Friday news conference that the department is working on “policy changes,” which include training courses on de-escalation and race relations.
“We need to understand how to respond to young people and where they’re coming from,” he said.
“When incidents like this occur, I am relieved that I ensured body-worn cameras are worn by our police, so we can see what occurs on our streets and hold officers accountable,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in a statement.
“Change will not come until we have the ability to fully hold our officers accountable when they violate the public’s trust,” she said.