As the Academy Awards unfolded Sunday night, many Rochester residents were glued to a film that both enraged and embarrassed them — and it wasn't even an Oscar contender, according to a columnist in the Democrat & Chronicle.
It was an untitled short, just 15 seconds long, with a cliffhanger ending that could best be synopsized for TV like this: "Women twerk on Rochester police cruiser as two cops watch, do nothing."
For the uninitiated, twerking is a sexually provocative dance move, performed mostly by women, that involves rapidly gyrating the hips from a low-squatting stance. That's the PG-rated description.
But the film would likely get a PG-13 rating for featuring two women simulating intercourse on the hood of a parked Rochester police car as a pair of officers looked on passively.
The officers stood idly on the corner of East Avenue and Ryan Alley in Rochester's East End entertainment district as the women defiled a taxpayer-funded, crime-fighting vehicle and onlookers hooted and hollered.
It was night, and one officer stood with his arms folded while the other twirled what appeared to be a flashlight. Nothing to see here. Move along, folks.
The video was shot and uploaded to Twitter early Saturday by Chris Barber under the handle @FollowZeLeader, and like so many snippets of video online, it was presented with no context. His tweet simply read: "Rochester. N.Y. Let's get it," followed by a happy face emoji.
There was no telling what transpired before or after the women showcased the elasticity of their gluteus maximi. Perhaps the officers sprang into action moments after the recording stopped. Maybe they joined the twerk-off.
In this case, though, it doesn't matter.
The officers' inaction for that quarter of a minute may have done more to damage the reputation of Rochester and erode public confidence in its police than anything any cowboy cop caught on camera has ever done.
That's because their idleness screamed, "I don't care anymore," in the face of a blatant violation that mocked their authority.
The shooting of nine people in Rochester last week reignited debate about the safety of the city and reinforced the misperception of it as a lawless place.
What transpired on the hood of that police car in the East End was a greater display of lawlessness because it suggested the RPD has given up the fight.
Of course, the RPD hasn't given up. Detectives are actively investigating those shootings, and an officer who was allegedly shot at on Sunday by a teenager in an unrelated incident helped chase him down.
That's why that video is so harmful to the image of a city heralded as the "Image Capital of the World."
The only conclusion to be drawn from it is that Rochester is a Wild West, where civilians can openly mock police and climb on patrol cars with no consequences.
The officer who stood with arms folded appeared to say something inaudible in the video, but only after a woman went from convulsing on her knees on the hood of the car to standing on it.
Maybe the officers, who were on bar detail from 11 p.m. through 3 a.m., were attempting to show restraint. Doing nothing as they did, though, normalized this kind of behavior.
Rochester police spokesman Lt. Frank Camp said the officers were caught by surprise by the women after the officers granted the women's request to have their photo taken with the car, and didn't have time to react.
After the women got off the car, he said, the officers confirmed there was no damage to the cruiser and a supervisor told the women what they did was "unacceptable." The women apologized and thanked the officers, he said.
Barber, who shot the video, corroborated that an officer moved from the car for a photo to be taken but couldn't say what transpired after the twerking. Barber said he didn't know the women and just happened to be passing by.
"Obviously if the two officers didn't want them doing what they did, they would have done what they needed to do and removed the girls," Barber said. "Clearly in the video you can see both officers' faces and neither look mad or disappointed. If anything, the look is more of a 'this is funny' facial expression."
A statement issued by Police Chief Michael Ciminelli read that the matter had been "addressed accordingly," but offered no indication of how it was addressed.
"Although the RPD personnel did not intend for this to occur, the result was an inappropriate and unacceptable image for the Rochester Police Department," Ciminelli said.
"We, as leaders of the department, hold the Rochester Police Department, its uniform, and its symbols, in the highest regard," Ciminelli said. "We expect all our officers to do the same."
Better get twerk on that, officers.
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle