Sheriff Todd Baxter called the law “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” while Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary instructed his officers to not enforce the law, citing the likelihood that its constitutionality will be challenged in court.
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- Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary.
Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo signed the law on Monday over the objections of dozens of speakers, including many criminal defense lawyers, who said the law was redundant, too subjective, and unconstitutional.
The original legislation was introduced by Republican Legislators Karla Boyce and Kara Halstead.
County spokesperson Jesse Sleezer defended the law, as well as the county executive’s decision to sign it, at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Sleezer said the measure pushed forward with the “best of intentions,” and received the okay from the Monroe County Law Enforcement Council.
“As the County Executive has said repeatedly, she believed in the intent of the proposal, that it was intended to protect first responders in our community,” Sleezer said.
Singletary was the first chief of police in the county to publicly state his officers will ignore the law, although others have since expressed concerns about it.
“As Chief, I believe it to be in the best interest of our members to not take any enforcement action on the local law until such time that the courts make a judicial opinion on this legislation,” he said in a prepared statement. “The New York State Penal Law currently allows criminal charges to be lodged against a person that subjects any first responder to conduct that constitutes violent or criminal behavior.”
Singletary made his decision after consulting with the city’s lawyer, Tim Curtin, said the statement.
“If it is found that the New York State or Federal Courts uphold this Local Law and find it to be valid under State and Federal Constitutions, further guidance will be issued to officers,” Singletary said.
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- Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter
“For example, earlier this year, while members of the Rush Fire Department and Ambulance responded to a reported MVA (motor vehicle accident) on Route 390 in the Town of Rush, multiple members of the fire department and EMS were attacked,” Baxter said, in a statement. “The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office responded, investigated, and ultimately charged two individuals” with a pair of felonies: second-degree assault and first-degree reckless endangerment.
Mazzeo went further than Baxter, arguing the law is not only redundant, but doesn’t necessarily represent the wants or needs of actual officers. Mazzeo said the police union, which represents over 700 Rochester police officers, was not asked for input as the bill was drafted. It’s a similar complaint Mazzeo had during the drafting of the Police Accountability Board legislation in the City of Rochester.
If the Locust Club had been more involved in the process, the law — or one like it — probably wouldn’t even have been drafted, Mazzeo said. Rather, officers would have favored educating the public on interacting with first responders and fostering a stronger relationship between officers and the public.
“I don’t know what the intentions were of the people who drafted this bill because, again, I haven’t spoken to those who drafted it,” Mazzeo said. “Were their intentions to do something positive? Was it something just political? I don’t know. But when you don’t let people weigh in or you’re not given a heads up or told what they’re working on, you can only guess, and then all your concerns come out the wrong way—when it’s too late.”
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- Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo.
Hours before she signed the law Monday, Dinolfo told reporters that she trusts officers will apply the law as intended and that she trusts “our law enforcement officers will do the right thing as they apply this law.”
Irondequoit police officers won’t be using the law and will instead rely on existing state statutes that protect first responders from harassment, threats, and assault.
"When we already have legally sound legislation in place, I'm not sure why we would go down a different path," Irondequoit Police Chief Richard Tantalo said.
Patrick Phelan, the chief of police in Greece, offered a more tempered response.
“I intend to instruct Greece police officers that there may be appropriate circumstances for the law to be enforced, but that the county law does not supersede the Constitution of the United States of America,” Phelan said. “If the law is enforced, it will not be enforced in such a way as to infringe on a citizen’s constitutional rights. The First Amendment’s right to free speech and peaceful assembly will be respected, as well as a citizens’ right to video record in a public place.”
This story has been updated throughout the day as it evolves.