The Ithaca Common Council voted unanimously to set a two-year expiration date for the Officer Next Door initiative — which assigns police officers to live in troubled Ithaca neighborhoods as resources for residents — at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
During the meeting, the council heard feedback from citizens about the initiative which the City Administration Committee approved in a unanimous vote Jan. 21, according to The Ithaca Journal.
Many citizens expressed support for the program saying that they did not always feel their children were safe in their neighborhoods, and describing crimes and drug deals they had witnessed in their everyday life.
Chief of Police John Barber encouraged the council to allow the program to continue running for several more years without amendment. He said residents of West Village — a housing complex where Officer Next Door has already been implemented, which saw over 2,500 crime incidents in 2015 — have said that the program “is making a difference.”
“If the parents are saying that this program appears to be working, and they’re comfortable putting their children outside, how can we ignore that?” Barber asked.
Council members nevertheless debated various aspects of the program, including the cost of the police officers’ free housing and the $10,000 stipend for participating officers.
Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) questioned the ethics of providing officers with housing and a stipend if they are only living in the community and not on active duty.
“There will be community questions of the appearance of impropriety, questions in terms of who has influences over these officers,” Brock said. “That question of integrity would be very hard to repair once that foundation is put into place.”
The council also raised concerns about allowing officers to access surveillance camera footage in their apartments, which they can do if they feel it is necessary, even if they are not on duty.
“[Since the officers are not on duty], it’s just an invasion of privacy,” said Deborah Mohlenhoff (D-5th Ward). “It should be the job of the management to look at the surveillance cameras.”
Barber also addressed concerns about overextending officers, who might feel like they are “on call all 24 hours,” according to Alderperson Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward).
“Having been a police officer who lived in the City of Ithaca for a number of years … people know you live there, and whether you’re officially on duty or off duty, you’ll always get a neighbor who has a question for you or a concern,” Barber said.
Due to these concerns, the council voted to limit Officer Next Door to two years of operation before evaluating the program further.