Report: Church, library and Friendly's draw lion's share of neighborhood police calls

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The SOS Recovery Center and the church it is housed are epicenter of the focus of a recent petition and crime analysis report. (Courtesy photo)

ROCHESTER - A six-month analysis of crime statistics in and around the First Church Congregational and the offices of SOS Recovery Center shows that the overwhelming percentage of police calls are coming from three contiguous locations including the church, itself, the Rochester Public Library and Friendly's.

The statistical data, compiled partially in response to a recent petition by neighborhood residents to have the city move the recovery center and obtained by The Rochester Voice, covers the area of South Main Street from Columbus Avenue to Portland Street.

The most calls for service of any address came from the library - at 39 - including two for criminal threatening, two domestics, two suspicious activity, 10 suspicious subjects, two suspicious vehicles and one welfare check.

Friendly's was next with 22, including nine suspicious subjects, six welfare checks, four suspicious vehicles and three wanted persons.

Calls were referred to the church 15 times to include six for suspicious activity, three for criminal trespassing, four for criminal mischief, one for criminal threatening and one wanted person.

Rochester Police Capt. and press liaison Jason Thomas stressed that just because there was a call for service doesn't mean that a crime occurred or that the call, itself, was even legitimate. He also noted that calls to Friendly's were rarely if ever for activity in the restaurant but more likely in the parking lot and surrounding area.

But the numbers do give a snapshot into the law enforcement activity in and around that section of the downtown.

After the church, library and Friendly's the next busiest addresses are far below the others in police calls for service, including Bank of America with four and D'Angelos with five.

The data was compiled between late December and late June.

The total number of calls were 73, of which 54 originated with extra patrols, eight from community policing, four from pedestrian contact, three during footbeats and four during business checks.

The petitioners looking to have the Recovery Center moved is headed by Karen Watkins and Anna Strong, who both live on Congress Street, and believe the drug activity in and around the church as well as the nearby Rochester Public Library has increased dramatically in the past several months.

Watkins says she has strong support from area businesses who are fed up with the constant drug activity and lawlessness.

The recent spate of illegal activity was punctuated last month with the fatal shooting of a woman not far from Friendly's when Billy Jo Ahearn died of a single gunshot wound. No arrests have been made, and no suspects named in the case.

Watkins said recently she believes SOS is not the problem she once thought it was, and now believes it is the church that is encouraging drug addicts to seek sanctuary there and many who are homeless to live on church grounds.

As of Friday Rochester Voice attempts to reach church officials for comment had been unsuccessful.

Rochester's City Council voted unanimously to reject the petition filed by Strong and Watkins on Tuesday.

Ward 6 Councilor Jim Gray said on Friday that doesn't mean the issue is necessarily over. He said he's interested in hearing what the petitioners have to say at a City Council workshop on Tuesday.

"I'll be looking to see what proof they have that homeless people are living at the church," he said. "If they are then we'll see if the church has proper life safety things like bathrooms and showers."

Gray said when the homeless shelters were open during a cold spell during the winter the city amassed a host of services and people watching to make sure everyone stayed safe.

He also said there are allegations of folks staying at the church that are not from Rochester. In that case there is a question of whether their home locale should be sharing any costs associated with services rendered, he added.

City Manager Blaine Cox said while the council vote was final, petitioners could still take their concerns to the public safety committee later this month.

Interestingly, SOS Director John Burns will also be at Tuesday's workshop where he'll be asking for more funding from the city due to the closure of the Rochester Community Recovery Center and his pickup of several more clients from there. It is unknown whether Burns will address the petitioners' concerns during his conversation with the council.

Burns has said the petitioners' fears are not grounded in reality, but based on fear and misunderstanding.

The workshop gets under way at 7 p.m., with public input the first item on the agenda.

Watkins has said she expects 100-150 concerned citizens to be there.

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