Recently inaugurated Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 announced Friday that he would personally look into the investigation of Marlon Byrd, a lieutenant in the Ithaca Police Department accused of assisting drug dealers. The issue first arose in 2008, when Byrd was accused of holding substances for narcotics dealers and giving them information about pending drug investigations — charges he was at the time cleared of. The fact that these charges are still unresolved and only being publicly addressed four years later demonstrates a potential institutional problem within the IPD. We hope Myrick’s decision to tackle this problem is evident of a leader looking to improve the department both internally and in its dealings with the citizens of Ithaca.
The IPD has long had a strained relationship with the public. It unnecessarily requires burdensome Freedom of Information Law requests and imposes wait times of months for documents that other police departments make readily available. The lack of information released since 2008 regarding Byrd’s investigation indicates a larger problem within the IPD, a police force that continues to lose the trust of the public it serves.
This communication problem could be due in part to a lack of accountability to the people of Ithaca. In neighboring police departments, such as the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, the leadership is popularly elected and has an inherent responsibility to its electorate. In Ithaca, rather, the chief is appointed by and therefore accountable to the mayor. This distinction manifests itself in practical differences — the TCSO shares information much more openly than the IPD — and also has broader implications. In Ithaca, because the chief of police is appointed by the popularly elected mayor, responsibility for this internal crisis should fall on Myrick. Even though he inherited the current police chief, and consequently the Byrd investigation, Myrick has stepped up to take responsibility.
We are hopeful that Myrick’s investigation will lead to a more transparent scrutiny of the accusations brought against Byrd and the manner in which they came to surface. The people of the City of Ithaca deserve a more open police department, and a public investigation by the mayor’s office sets the correct tone for dealing with any issues that may arise in the future.
In The Sun’s endorsement of Myrick for mayor, we were optimistic the young candidate could present innovative solutions to the challenges the city is facing. This matter is Myrick’s first real test on a job that will likely often force him to examine issues both within his own government and the greater City of Ithaca. We hope that transparency within the IPD can become the new standard, a first step towards winning back the people’s trust.