April 30, 2013

Ithaca Police Cuts ‘Chewed Away’ at Department, Officers Say

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Five months after the City of Ithaca approved cutting the number of Ithaca Police Department officers by nine in an effort to close the city’s $3-million budget deficit, IPD says it is operating with minimum staffing at “mission critical,” according to IPD public information officer Jamie Williamson.

Though the department avoided laying off any of its officers, it did not fill nine of its vacant positions, which eliminated patrol, fleet maintenance, traffic officer, temporary investigator and administrative positions and decreased the number of officers to 64.

“We are now at the ‘have to do’ stage rather than the ‘nice to do’ stage,” Williamson said. “At mission critical, we can only achieve our core missions” and are unable to implement new programs or projects.

IPD officers protested the cuts –– which have also affected the Ithaca Fire Department ––  at a Common Council meeting last fall when Myrick proposed them, arguing that a limited staff would endanger officers’ safety.

“We are at our bare minimum right now,” IPD officer Kevin Slattery told the council at the meeting last fall. “The bottom line is there are no more areas where we can make cuts.”

IPD officer Michael Nelson, who has worked at the department for 13 years, said the cuts have changed the department from being proactive in preventing crime to reacting to crimes that have already been committed.

“To be proactive, you need more of a presence out there for the bad guy to see,” he said. “But now, all we can do is answer calls.”

The department does not yet have enough data to assess the impact of the cuts on officer safety and crime in the city, according to Williamson. However, he said fewer officers will “100 percent directly result in more crime,” citing studies which he said have shown criminals pay attention to the number of police officers on the street.

In addition, the elimination of administrative positions has meant administrative responsibilities are added to other employees’ loads, leading to loss of a quality control filter for paperwork used in prosecution, Williamson said. Though the IPD has tried to avoid having officers work overtime, many have had to take on extra work to accommodate for the decrease in staffing, Williamson said.

“I can say with confidence that if we had more people, more officers, the likelihood of events [like the recent shooting and stabbings downtown] occurring would decrease or greatly decrease,” he said. “More officers on the street means less crime.”

Williamson said that although he appreciates Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 willingness to make difficult decisions for the benefit of the Ithaca community, the loss of officers has negatively impacted the department.

“I like that the mayor isn’t afraid to make tough decisions for the betterment of the Ithaca community,” Williamson said. “[But his budgets cuts] really chewed away at the core of our department. We had great expectations and aspirations for the department, and this really undermines them.”

Original Author: Sarah Cutler