Moses Robinson is a veteran School Resource Officer (SRO) in Rochester, NY who is working to address tensions in his school and in his community. NIOT.org reached out to him to hear more about his work in the community and the steps he's taking to make it a better place.
How long have you been a police officer/SRO?
I have been in law enforcement for 28 years with the Rochester Police Department, and 18 years as a School Resource Officer at a local high school (East High).
When did you become involved in community policing and why?
I have been involved in the concept of community policing since the early stages of my law enforcement career. I realize that I have a personal interest with my connections to the community of Rochester, where I have spent most my life. Rochester is not a large community. People are often connected either through family, church, high school, and even sadly violent encounters. As I was growing up, I didn’t like the police and I had a very negative perception of police officers. Most of what I understood about the police came from family members, or friends that experienced really bad situation with officers.
The inner city/urban relationship between the police and the community is often masked under distrust, which unfortunately permits the underlying crime issues to flourish. Joining the Rochester Police Department has allowed me to create and form partnerships with the entire Rochester community from all races and backgrounds. My community policing beliefs have opened many doors of trust to the point where I have been selected to appear on radio stations to discuss issues pertaining to violence and my work with building positive relationships in the community of Rochester as a law enforcement officer.
The hate relationships between the inner city community and the police, or the Puerto Ricans and the Blacks, or the Blacks and the students from Yemen have made me realize the need to get involved with issues to make change and break barriers of ignorance.
What sorts of challenges have you worked on that are particular to the community that you serve?
The City of Rochester has the second largest population of Hispanics next to New York City. We also have a large African-American population, which is the largest minority population in the City of Rochester. The population of African-Americans and Puerto Rican teens generally get along very well due to fact that most have attended school together or geographically lived near each other for some time. In the past there may have been some cultural difference and school fights between ethnic groups. But most often the fights were handled on a school level and really never impacted the community until recently.
In the past two to three years as a SRO, I have noticed an intense building up of racial disputes between our kids from the African-American and Puerto Rican communities. Last year, in 2013, there were a series of ongoing fights between the African-American students and Puerto Rican students taking place. These incidents were happening either in the school or somewhere near the school, mostly during school dismissal.
I called together all the school staff to assess the reasons for the fights taking place. I learned the core issues surrounding the fights between the two groups. I brought together all the Puerto Rican and African-American students in separate venues. I brought in our street Out-Reach gang specialist, a group comprised of both African-American and Puerto Rican workers, to speak with the students. We discussed team building, tolerance and school violence. Unfortunately the assembled audience of students did not receive the message as it was intended. The violence between the groups of students continued and later reached into the community.
What work are you most proud of?
I am very proud of my trust and integrity with the Rochester community, particularly with our high-risk kids. I have been able to form good, trusting relationships with many of our high-risk kids because of community involvement or school-related function.
What do you see as the challenges to anti-hate work in your town?
I believe that the challenges to the issue of race in the City of Rochester are highly based on ignorance of culture. Most of the people dealing with the negative part of this issue do not understand how closely connected we are in terms of class levels of poverty, or urban conditions that produce fragmentation and discord.
What gives you hope?
What gives me hope for change is hope. Rochester has many wonderful organizations and community groups that would like to help support this change. I believe that we have the ability to bring all these community stakeholders together and come up with an action plan for change. Working on this issue of race will provide strength and respect that enable the groups to continue to work for solutions that affect not just race, but also community violence as well. I am inspired by the resiliency of the core group of movers and shakers that I’m blessed to work with.
What advice would you give to other law enforcement or public servants who want to address hate and intolerance in their town?
The advice I would offer other public servants and law enforcement official is that we, as a community, have signed an oath to work to save lives and protect property. When taking that oath we have co-signed to deal with all other mental and physical illnesses that would make the people we have sworn to protect unsafe. Racism is a disease. If not properly dealt with, it will affect the ignorance of innocent people and, in particular, children. The leadership of public servants and law enforcement in the community signals a rallying cry to gather people together.