February 12, 2004

Police Chief Works To Keep Ithaca Safe

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It might not be the rough side of the Bronx, but Ithaca is still a city, and someone has to keep it safe. That is where Ithaca Police Department (IPD) Chief Victor Loo comes in. Loo, who retired as a lieutenant from the New York City Police Department in March 2002, came to Ithaca last April to become the IPD’s 11th police chief.

“I think policing is pretty much similar anywhere,” Loo said. He added that “the intensity of crimes that occur in New York City is different from here.”

In contrast to New York City, Ithaca residents look out for each other, call in crimes and stay at the scene to help police officers when they arrive, Loo said. Officers in New York City are frequently faced with the problem of having little or no information about a crime that has been committed.

“In New York City you have to search for witnesses,” Loo said. “Here, people get involved.”

Perhaps typical to a city with multiple schools of higher education, some of the major concerns that the IPD face are burglary, traffic violations and, of course, underage drinking. Alcohol often complicates situations in which inebriated students talk back to police officers. Loo concedes that most of the time “it’s the alcohol talking.” He said that officers take this into consideration when dealing with intoxicated students and emphasized that students should control themselves and their friends in such situations.

“We’re asking the students to be respectful, that’s all,” Loo said.

Though alcohol-related incidents are a major component of crimes around Cornell, they are also a “a big problem in the city — not just in Collegetown or South Hill.”

Responding to a new noise ordinance that would place stricter restrictions on loud parties, Loo said that the proposed changes would “help police officers do their job,” noting that Ithaca already has a noise ordinance and that officers would still have discretion in handling specific incidents. The real test of such policies will come in April, when Senior week parties take over most of Collegetown.

Another growing concern for the IPD is traffic. Recent development in Ithaca, such as the construction projects downtown and new stores like Home Depot that have recently opened, increases the flow of traffic into the City. With the increase in traffic comes a rise in the number of complaints about drivers speeding or running red lights, as well as a need for more police support. An increase in traffic also brings revenues to the City. “The only way to show the need for more officers is if crime increases,” Loo said. However, Loo was optimistic that the added funds that the City would take in from increased traffic would allow the police department to expand.

As Loo adjusts to life in Ithaca, he has only typical complaints. “This is beautiful; this is great,” he said, adding the lament familiar to any Ithacan, that he just wishes the sun would come out more often.

He also said that the first thing he noticed when he came here was that there were no gates.

“It kind of tells you what kind of city this is,” he said.

However, many burglaries in Ithaca are “crimes of opportunity,” in which the perpetrator notices an unlocked door or window — in some case wide open — and cannot resist the temptation, Loo warns citizens to be careful.

As current relations with college students in Ithaca are generally good and that most of the time, students are cognizant and respectful of the police officers’ jobs, Loo hopes this relationship will continue, adding, “we’re getting there.”

Archived article by Yuval Shavit