May 3, 2005

Committee Supports IPD

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The Governance Committee of the Common Council voted down a resolution last night requesting the mayor direct the Ithaca Police Department to reserve handcuffing of noise violators to “all but the most extreme cases.” The resolution failed by a vote of 3-1, with Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward) casting the only vote in favor.

Taylor had introduced the resolution last Monday after nine Cornell students were arrested that weekend for noise violations. According to the students, police officers arrested them after the parties had been dispersed at the officers’ requests. In last week’s discussions, several Council members suggested that the IPD may have a policy of arresting students for violations in order to secure a bond and ensure that students will show up for their court dates.

IPD Deputy Chief Randy Haus confirmed that this happens, but IPD Chief Lauren Signer said that this is a “practice” and not a “policy.”

“We do not have a written policy on this matter,” Signer said. “We do have a practice, a practice that’s dictated by behaviors in certain neighborhoods — not by whom lives in the neighborhood, not necessarily by the time of year, but by the frequency and intensity of the behaviors in a geographical area,” she added.

Emphasis throughout the debate focused on the power of discretion afforded to police officers. Several Council members said they did not feel the governance committee should dictate IPD policy.

“This is not a legislative problem. This is a policy problem, or a practice problem. It is a way that a department decides to function. And I do not believe that that is our role [to control]. We may disagree with that practice, and we may voice our disagreement with that practice, and we may speak to the mayor about our disagreements with that practice — but to try, in a committee meeting of Common Council, to try to tell a department how to run — I think that is inappropriate,” said Governance Committee Chair Pamela Mackesey (D-1st Ward).

Taylor, however, said that he brought the resolution forth as a representative of his constituency.

“The reason why I brought this legislation forth is because it’s happening in our community, it’s happening in our neighborhood.” Taylor said. “I don’t want people being handcuffed and taken downtown and handcuffed to the bullring in my name for noise violations. But I guess, if you do, I would like to hear why,” he added.

He added that the resolution would not have any legal force, but would rather be a declaration of the committee’s opinion.

Governance Committee member David Whitmore ’96 (D-2nd Ward) said that he disagrees with the police department’s “practice of arresting people to ensure appearance,” but that he would not support the resolution without a more long-term discussion.

“To apply this type of policy approach to this situation without more time and more discussion does not feel appropriate,” he said.

Asked by Council Member Maria Coles (D-1st Ward) whether such a resolution was even legal due to its potential effect on an already existent noise ordinance, City Attorney Marty Luster said that it was, but only barely.

“I believe technically it is in order. Upon closely reading it, I believe that it approaches but does not go over the line of being an illegal proposal to direct the police department to restrict their discretion to a degree greater than they are allowed in the state law,” Luster said.

Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson told The Sun after the meeting that she had discussed the practice of arresting noise ordinance violators with Signer over the last week. She said that Signer brought up many of the issues she had mentioned during the governance meeting. Peterson added that she had not established a new procedure for the police department. “I haven’t laid out any policies, I never do that,” Peterson said. “It’s very hard to make a blanket policy of any kind.”

Governance Committee Members Mackesey, Whitmore and Joel Zumoff MS ’70 (D-3rd ward) voted against the resolution. Robin Holtham Korherr (D-5th Ward) could not attend for health reasons.

Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun City Editor