With a philosophy of community engagement stemming from decades in the Rochester Police Department, rising to the rank of chief, Democratic mayoral candidate James Sheppard is a humble voice who envisions Rochester as a cultural hub.
Born in Albany, Georgia, Sheppard, number six of 12 children, bounced around the East Coast through his youth: to Philadelphia, to Atlanta and finally landing in Rochester in 1977. Following brief career endeavors at Kodak and the New York State Division For Youth, Sheppard joined the Rochester Police Department in 1981, following a failed attempt in 1979. Sheppard retired from law enforcement in 2008, taking up the position of director of school safety and security. From there he was named chief in 2010, serving until 2014. Sheppard currently serves as county legislator.
A decade-spanning career in law enforcement has given Sheppard insight into the community which, he believes, makes him the right mind to bring Rochester to glory.
“As you mature, you realize it’s not about authority,” Sheppard said, about being an officer of the law. “It’s about enforcement and engagement. It’s about working together to fix a problem.”
In regard to policing the community, Sheppard is focused on encouraging a police force that engages the community, particularly youth, through showing interest and interacting with a community.
“When a young adult sees you, they don’t care about a title,” Sheppard said. “They care about you respecting them and you caring about what they think.”
Sheppard defined his law enforcement philosophy as “policing in the spirit of service”—a vision of policing to better a community, not to make arrests and stop singular crimes.
This mentality of upfront policing bleeds into Sheppard’s philosophy on government, noting a need for transparency and accountability in office.
“When you talk about transparency, you talk about ethics,” Sheppard said. “If you’re going to do everything behind closed doors, you are not acting ethically. City government should operate where people are engaged and involved . Regardless if you win or lose, you know the process.”
As a prime example, Sheppard pointed to the decision to place a performing arts center at Parcel 5 as a key example of a failure to follow process.
“An RFP without the proper requirements was picked,” Sheppard said. “That’s not the way it should work.”
Noting the growth of Rochester’s business community in recent years, Sheppard insisted on preserving the means to attract businesses to operate in Rochester.
“Our government should be in business to help businesses do business,” Sheppard said. “Make it as easy as possible, within the rules, for businesses to come here, and do what we can to look at bigger markets. To let people in New York City know you can put your back office here; you’ll pay cheaper rent, have less of a cost of living and, in turn, get to pay lower salaries, all while employing locals.”
As the city develops, Sheppard moved toward innovative solutions to combat gentrification. He pointed to the South Wedge neighborhood, showing a massive cultural shift since his time as an officer decades ago, as a case study.
“There is a way to do things where we let a community grow while keeping some level of diversity,” Sheppard said. “Whether that’s through grant programs or flat property tax rates, we can let a community grow without pushing people out.”
Ultimately, Sheppard sees the future of Rochester as bright; a place that could highlight the beauty and rich culture of upstate New York.
“Let me tell you my vision; I see Rochester being the economic and entertainment hub of this region, a unified community. There is so much fracturing between economic class, demographics, Republican or Democrat, even more fractures between Democrats. I believe we can do great things if someone brings us together towards a common goal,” Sheppard said. “I believe I’m the right person to do that.”