The first job for Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard after college graduation in 1976 was with Eastman Kodak Co., where he spent three years wishing he were outside instead of preparing documents for the litigation department on State Street.
Kodak was at the dawn of a 15-year court fight against Polaroid Corp., which claimed in a lawsuit that Kodak stole its instant photography technology.
"I worked in an office where I could look outside and see people out and about," Sheppard says. "I could see the weather. I could see that I would rather be outside.
"I like people. I like engaging people…. Sitting in that office was just not appealing to me. I just hated that office feel."
He took the Rochester police officer examination but was not accepted into the department after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee playing basketball in 1979.
"I have a history of injuries with basketball," Sheppard says. "I tore up my knee pretty good. Even though I went through the process and passed everything, at the time the city’s doctor felt that maybe I’d be a liability that they’d have to own forever."
Ten years later, he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee playing basketball. Three years after that, he tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg.
"At about that time," he says, "I realized that maybe I ought to give up basketball."
Sheppard, 57, joined the Police Department in 1981, working his way up through the ranks for 27 years before leaving in 2008 to become director of safety and security for the Rochester City School District.
He returned to the city in March 2010 as director of the Office of Public Integrity. He was appointed chief of police that November, switching jobs with David Moore, who retired at the end of the year.
"I’m very high on him, personally and as the police chief," Mayor Thomas Richards says. "I think he’s doing a good job.
"He’s balancing this need to be a cop in a traditional sense … with the need to be an ambassador in the community, which he’s worked very hard at personally."
Sheppard oversees 735 police officers and some 250 civilian personnel as well as the department’s $86 million budget.
Civilian employees include administrative and secretarial staff, technicians and others who share crime scene investigation and evidence collection responsibilities with officers.
"The city’s total budget is just short of $500 million," Sheppard says. "The Police Department, with salaries and pension and health care, is about $130 million of that. So we’re the big eater of the budget.
"Whenever you have deficits to fix or correct, or to balance the budget, the best place to look is who eats the most. We’re part of that."
The city employed 710 officers when Sheppard left for the city school district in 2008 and has had as many as 790 since then, Sheppard says.
"Now, the city has done a tremendous job of keeping us strong," he says. "If you ask any chief, I don’t care where you go, we all need more cops. We’ll all take more cops like we’ll take more dollars in our paychecks.
"We’re not in a position where we’re so short that we can’t do the job," he adds.
Sheppard’s peers have told him he announced his intention to be police chief when he and other members of their police academy class introduced themselves and their career goals in 1981.
"I don’t necessarily remember it, and some people have said, ‘Yes, we knew you were going to be that,’" Sheppard says. "I don’t know. I can’t say I ever felt that much of myself to think, ‘Yes, that’s what I’m going to be.’
"In looking back, I believe I built my career to be here, but I didn’t know I was building it. It was various assignments that I felt built a broad foundation for me to sit here. I have been involved in most of this department in different assignments. I think that’s a plus."
Sheppard’s progression up the ranks also was the result of a self-imposed five-year rule, he says.
"I found that after about five years, I wanted to move…. I found that I just wanted to do something different. I didn’t have a problem with change, and that’s notorious for us as policemen. We hate change…. I actually embrace it. Part of that is because my father was in the military and we moved often."
Sheppard was born in Albany, Ga. A month later, the family moved to Philadelphia. Nine years after that, it relocated to Atlanta, home to the Sheppard family for generations. Sheppard’s dad worked for Kodak there.
Kodak transferred him to Rochester in 1968, when Sheppard was 12. That was a year after race riots in nearby Buffalo and Syracuse, and four years after riots in Rochester over alleged police brutality.
"So rather than move into the city of Rochester, we moved 40 miles south of Rochester, to Springwater," Sheppard said.
He played basketball and soccer at Wayland-Cohocton High School and was a pole vaulter and long jumper on the track and field team. He graduated in 1973 and did hard labor for the next several months.
"That was a good thing, because it told me I didn’t want to do hard labor," Sheppard said. "That’s what made me go to school. A lot of my friends went to college. Some went up into the North Country. I said, ‘OK, I’ll give it a shot.’"
He enrolled at SUNY College at Canton in St. Lawrence County, earning a two-year associate degree in criminal justice in 1976. On his return to Rochester he was hired by Kodak. Then he was an officer for five years, and then became a recruit class coordinator in 1986.
"When we bring in a recruit class, we assign a police officer or two to be like their drill instructor," Sheppard says. "But really, you’re their guide from being civilians to being police officers during the academy experience of about six months."
David Klein, a city police officer with the mounted patrol unit, was one of Sheppard’s students. He joined the city police after working for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
"I’ve known him for almost 30 years," Klein says of Sheppard, who was in Klein’s wedding. "He hasn’t changed. He’s the same guy today that he was when we were patrolling and working together."
Sheppard was promoted to sergeant in 1988. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to the tactical unit, where he was paired with Robert Duffy, future Rochester mayor and state lieutenant governor.
"I always tell people that any speech you ever heard Duffy give, I’ve already heard it," Sheppard says, laughing. "We worked overnights. We talked all the time-or he talked all the time-so I would hear stuff. He was fun to work with because he is who he is."
Sheppard joined the city’s narcotics unit in 1990, returning to the tactical unit in 1995. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1998 and served for one year in the city’s Neighborhood Empowerment Team offices.
"That was a great assignment because everything else for me was proactive policing," Sheppard says. "Then I get to this (NET) job, and that really is that engagement with the community, working on problems as opposed to incidents, and working with other parts of city governments to address those problems."
He was transferred to internal affairs in 1998 when Duffy became the chief of police.
"That was an eye-opening experience, because prior to that, if you told me that a policeman did a certain thing, I’d probably say it ain’t likely," Sheppard says. "After I got there, if you told me he did a certain thing, I’d say it’s possible.
"You see so much, you hear so much and you find out that things are true. It put me in a place where I’m very neutral. People will say an officer did something, and I would never say a cop would never do that. I know that, at the end of the day, the investigation will tell me the truth if it can."
It was during his time in internal affairs that Sheppard went back to school, earning a four-year bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice and community service from SUNY Empire State College, Genesee Valley, in 1999.
Duffy promoted Sheppard to captain in 2003, roughly the time the city was changing its geographic responsibilities from seven sections to two divisions. When the divisional model was implemented in 2004, Sheppard was appointed commander for the east side.
Communication is key
Sheppard was named deputy chief of operations in 2006. Two years later, he went to the city school district.
"Going to the school district was also an eye-opening experience for me," Sheppard says. "When you’re a policeman, I always have the authority to arrest you if that’s what it takes to accomplish the goal or the mission.
"At the school district, you have neither the authority to arrest somebody and you don’t have any weapons. It’s even more important that you’re willing to engage and converse and convince, as opposed to (saying), ‘I’m the director of security, and you’re violating the rules.’"
Communication skill is the most valuable attribute of a city police officer, Sheppard says.
"I was 25 years old when I came into the Police Department," he says. "I felt at the time that I was a little more mature than my peers, even some of the guys that were already on the job. The reality was I had a whole lot to learn about this job. But I liked it a lot.
"I just liked engaging people. The one thing that took me a while to learn was the value of how to communicate. When you become a policeman, you think everything is about your badge and the gun and the power and the authority that you have. But your best tool is your ability to communicate to people."
Sheppard routinely appears at public events involving anti-crime and public safety programs.
"Not only does he work hard at it, he’s good at it," Richards says. "He relates to people. He’s not some smooth, corporate police chief. He’s Jim Sheppard, a cop. He comes across that way, and that’s genuine, and I think people appreciate it."
Community engagement is the top priority for Sheppard and the department.
"That’s the one thing I always stress as the chief," he says. "It’s very important for us to instill in our people that communication is the key. If I want you to do something for me, I can make you do it or I can convince you to do it.
"At the end of the day, if I convince you, it’s a good day for both of us."
Those in volatile situations usually just want to be heard, Sheppard says.
"So you have to give them that opportunity to vent….You may not be able to fix it, but a lot of times people aren’t willing to listen or give the time to someone, so they stay frustrated," he says.
That philosophy is paying off, if the most recent data on the number of crimes committed is an indication. Most crimes for the first six months of 2013 are at their lowest levels over the last 10 years, department statistics released last week show.
Violent crimes-including murders, rapes, armed robberies and aggravated assaults-were the third-lowest since 2003. Property crimes such as burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts were at their lowest levels.
"The thing that separates him is the way he looks at statistics," Klein says. "There’s been a history of policing where the guy who writes the most tickets and makes the most arrests is the best cop. That’s not how he looks at statistics. He doesn’t care about tickets, as long as there’s a drop in burglaries, robberies and homicides."
The divisional model of policing is a reason for the reduction in crime, Sheppard said. Discussions continue, however, on possible changes to the structure, including going back to sections.
"We changed the cutting of the pie," Sheppard says. "In this instance, there’s just two slices, half a pie. Well, do we quad it? That’s one discussion. Early, that would’ve been my choice: Make it a quad with a hole in the middle for downtown. You basically end up with five areas."
The 2013-14 city budget includes funds for an independent consultant to investigate possibilities and their costs.
"When I came into the Police Department we had seven sections that all met at the same point downtown," Sheppard says. "There was value in that. You could shape your policing to fit the people in a neighborhood. Then, within these sections, people felt they knew who their police were.
"One of the problems with that was you ended up with different policing in different places. You staff your sections based on any number of factors, but over time things would change. So you could be caught in periods where, as a section, you couldn’t meet the need."
Having two divisions enables manpower to be moved from one area to another, Sheppard says.
"I can’t say it’s solely because of being in the divisional model, but crime has consistently decreased since we went to the divisional model," he says. "That’s also based on the ability to communicate, coordinate and collaborate on a broader scale.
"In a section model, you might have a burglary problem up here. But criminals aren’t stuck in neighborhoods. They know they can get in a car and go anywhere they want. So the communication is much better than what we had in the section world."
The two divisions, however, left Rochester’s downtown without a visible police presence. That changed July 22 with the opening of a substation in the Sibley Centre. Some 39 officers are assigned to downtown from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Sibley Centre is home to Monroe Community College’s downtown campus, though the school has announced plans to move to former Kodak facilities on State Street. The Sibley site also is a bus transfer point for hundreds of high school students.
"We wanted to do a number of things, but most significantly was to reduce the need to respond to stuff," Sheppard says. "By reducing need, I mean reducing the problem."
The site will continue to be the hub for student busing.
"As long as that’s a factor, we’re always going to have a large influx of youth downtown on a daily basis," Sheppard says. "And it’s not so much that the kids are the problem. It’s that they need to be protected as well. That’s part of what our function is, to make sure they can get to where they have to get to safely."
The irony, Sheppard says, is that downtown is the safest part of the city statistically.
"Our big crime problem downtown before we put our resources there was car larcenies," he says. "Since we put the detail there, that has gone down 35 percent. We’re very proud of that.
"The perception is-and it’s a shame-if you go through downtown and see a lot of kids, and a lot of minority kids, that this is not a good place to be. But if you look at what actually happens, it doesn’t happen downtown. And when things do happen downtown, it’s generally between the students."
Sheppard thinks the perception is changing.
"There was a time when downtown, at about 5:30 or 6, was a ghost town," he says. "As of late-I’m going to say the last year, but it might be longer-I don’t care when you go downtown, people are out and about.
"The change in downtown isn’t just buildings for corporations. People are moving downtown because they want to be able to walk…. There are all these little establishments that are popping up to meet their needs."
Although Sheppard may not place much emphasis on the number of tickets and arrests for each officer, one statistic of significance to him is the percentage of minority officers in his workforce.
The city continues to try to increase the number of minority and female police officers, Sheppard says. This year’s class was 60 percent minorities and women.
The current workforce of 735 includes 500 white males, department numbers show. The roster includes 68 African-American males, 66 Hispanic males, 62 white females, 14 African-American females, 8 Asian males, 8 Hispanic females, 4 Asian females, 4 American Indian males and 1 American Indian female.
"It’s important due to the fact that a lot of times people in the community want to see somebody who looks like them," Sheppard says. "When they call 911, who’s coming to the door? They want to see somebody they feel looks like them and can relate to them."
Recruitment is difficult, Sheppard says.
"It is a tremendous battle to bring minorities into the Police Department because we have a very strenuous process," he says. "We lose some good ones to other opportunities, and I don’t think we really fought hard to let it be known that we’re trying to pull minorities in."
Off the job
Sheppard and his wife, June, are the parents of three adult children: James II, Tamara and Stephanie. They, their children and two grandchildren live in the Rochester area.
His escape from the pressures of police work comes from his motorcycle.
"For me, that is the most stress-relieving experience on earth," he says. "You can be on a motorcycle riding with 100 other people. But you can’t talk because the bikes are too loud, so you’re in your own little world until you get to where you’re going.
"When we get somewhere-let’s say we stop for gas-we can talk. Then I get back on my bike, you get on yours, and you’re in your own little world."
Sheppard has owned motorcycles for 40 years, riding to places such as Fort Knox, Ky., Annapolis, Md., and New Hampshire, usually in groups of four or fewer.
"It’s different than just getting on it and riding to work," he says.
"I never look at it like my car. I always looked at it as," he pauses, rubbing his hands together, "I’m going on my bike."
Sheppard also is a workout warrior.
"I start my day at 5 or 5:30 and go to the gym," he says. "I’m a weightlifting guy. That’s my thing. It has been forever. I also believe that is what keeps me young. You get old when you don’t work out."
Sheppard likes movies, particularly those of Quentin Tarantino.
"’Reservoir Dogs’ is one of my classics," he says.
For viewing, his favorite sport is football. His favorite team since the late 1960s is the Oakland Raiders.
"Basketball is another sport that I like, but they play so many games in professional sports now," Sheppard says. "It really gets interesting only towards the end of the season, and then the playoffs."
And he loves his job.
"A lot of people say, ‘Your job is so tough,’ or it’s so stressful. It isn’t to me because I’m committed to it not being that. I never liked being in an environment where everything is hyper-electric. I always believe that for the people who work with me, you have to keep it calm and make good decisions. If you do the right thing, everything will be all right."
Title: Chief, Rochester Police Department
Education: Associate degree in criminal justice, SUNY College at Canton; B.A. in criminal justice and community service, SUNY Empire State College, Genesee Valley, 1999
Family: Wife June; son James II, 30; daughters Tamara, 29, and Stephanie, 27
Hobbies: Motorcycling, weightlifting, movies, football
Quote: "No matter how good a job you did yesterday, something’s coming up today. And it might be the big event. So you’re never satisfied. You’ll never get to that place where you can just kick back and put your heels on the desk."
8/9/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.