November 5, 2013

EDITORIAL: More Police for Ithaca

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After approving a 2013 budget that cut nine officers from the Ithaca Police Department, the Common Council is now considering an amendment to reintroduce two of those positions back into the force in 2014. Some officials have suggested funding these two officers by removing the new Deputy Police Chief for Professional Standards position from the 2014 budget. With the ultimate goal of keeping our city safe from crime, we believe the addition of an internal affairs position is less critical than maintaining a strong presence of uniformed police. The Common Council should answer IPD officials’ pleas and pass the amendment to get more officers on the street. Amid economic struggles, public safety must still remain the City’s first priority.

We understand that the City needs to make cuts to balance the budget; some sacrifice is necessary in order to help maintain financial health. But crime rates in Ithaca have risen, according to statements IPD Chief John Barber made at a Common Council meeting last week. Barber and other IPD officials have repeatedly made it clear that downsizing by nine officers has diminished the department’s ability to protect residents. If returning two of those officers to the force will have a real impact on Ithaca’s ability to provide its citizens with essential safety services, the Common Council should find the money to make it happen.

If funding two more uniformed officers, which would cost the city an additional $117,609, requires the elimination of the deputy position from the 2014 budget, so be it. According to officials, the new deputy would be tasked with overseeing and standardizing internal investigations, as well as working to improve relations between police and the community. While such a role would be an asset, we are more concerned by IPD’s claims there are not enough officers to adequately police the streets. If budget constraints mean a choice between one or the other, the City should choose to dedicate concrete resources to daily crime-fighting.

If scrapping the new deputy post is not enough to fully finance salaries for two officers, the mayor’s plan to streamline the bureaucracy of Ithaca’s planning and building departments should shake loose some extra funds. If those savings are still insufficient, perhaps the Common Council should reconsider the 2014 budget proposal’s tax levy increase of only 2.08 percent. Implementing the lowest raise since 2000 simply may not generate the revenue Ithaca desperately needs. We understand the pressure on City officials to keep taxes down, and easing the burden on families is a positive goal. But with Ithaca facing massive cuts to essential services and crime rates moving in the wrong direction, perhaps now is not the time for taxpayer appeasement.