March 28, 2002

Acting Police Chief Steps in Temporarily

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Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 appointed Lauren Signer as Acting Chief of the Ithaca Police Department (IPD) last week. Signer, who had formerly held the title of Deputy Chief said that she’s still trying to figure out exactly what the appointment of Acting Chief entails.

“So far, it seems to mean I’m incredibly busy!” Signer joked.

Although Signer is the first female in Ithaca’s history to hold the position, Cohen commented on his decision.

“I had two Deputy Chiefs,” he said. “I spoke to them both at length. Based on the conversation, [Lauren] Signer was the one who was chosen.”

Considering the statistics, such an appointment is unusual. The National Center for Women and Policing state on their web site that as of 1995, “Women currently make up less than ten percent of sworn police officers nationwide, and are virtually absent from the higher policy-making ranks.”

Some community members commented on the appointment. Long time Ithaca resident and Cornell Senior Lecturer Barbara Mink said, “When you have two candidates who are equally qualified, one a woman and one a man, and the woman is chosen, it is certainly a mark of progress.”

Mink, who spent 12 years serving on the County Board of Representatives also spent five of those years as the chair of the Board.

Another Ithaca resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “My experience is that the IPD is a highly professional police force, and I believe whether the Acting Chief of Police is a woman or a man will make no difference.”

But, the resident also asked, “I’d be curious to know why she was selected, not in regards to her sex, but rather, her experiences.”

Signer was unavailable for further comment.

With 16 years of law enforcement experience, Signer will carry out the duties of former Chief of Police Richard Basile, who officially retired on Sunday.

Signer was formally appointed on March 21 by the mayor so that there could be a continual presence in the position of Chief of Police.

According to Cohen, there is no stipulated time limit on the position. A new chief will be chosen once a search committee is formed. As Cohen explained, to comply with the city charter, the Common Council and Community Police Board will each select three members to serve on the search committee, and the mayor will select one person with law enforcement experience to join the team.

After the applicants are reviewed, the committee will select three and report to Cohen, who will make the final decision.

Archived article by Signe Pike