Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photo Editor

Ithaca Common Campus held a virtual meeting on Nov. 4, in which they finalized the 2021 municipal budget.

November 6, 2020

Common Council Holds Final Budget Vote, Funds Two Now-Vacant IPD Positions

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After months of deliberation, Ithaca Common Council approved the final 2021 municipal budget. The budget comes in the midst of an unprecedented budget deficit and a persistent push from local advocates to defund the IPD –– a push which often took place during the public comment section of Common Council’s public budget hearings this fall.

Common Council approved the use of city funds for two Ithaca Police Department hires, both of which will begin in July if the department finds suitable applicants at a net cost of $82,100. The resolution passed 8-2 with Ducson Nguyen (D-2nd Ward), Stephen Smith (D-4th ward) voting against.

Smith said that he was not comfortable adding this burden to city taxpayers for what he believed was a marginal benefit to police, as IPD currently employs 61 officers.

For over a year, IPD has operated with eight vacant positions,according to Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 and an IPD end of year report. The July 2021 addition of two officers would partially make up this reduction from typical staffing.

During several meetings, multiple council members have expressed concerns that the IPD’s staff shortage is leading to overworked officers and lower morale. IPD Deputy Chief John Joly, who was in attendance at the Nov. 4 meeting, echoed this sentiment.

Seph Murtagh ’09 (D-2nd Ward), who voted to fund the two positions, said one of his main reasons for supporting the move was that fatigued officers are more likely to make potentially consequential mistakes while on the job. Murtagh also suggested that IPD officers spend more time on foot to encourage casual interactions between officers and the public.

However, earlier in the evening, local advocates once again spoke in favor of defunding the IPD.

Local activist Genevieve Rand said IPD officers have misgendered her and repeatedly disrespected her based on her gender identity, a reference to her arrest by two officers, which included Deputy Chief Vincent Monticello, on Oct. 22 at a protest outside the IPD headquarters.

“Given the love and acceptance that I’ve experienced in the community here, I was literally shocked to experience the level of deliberate transphobia and invalidation that I did at the hands of IPD officers on Oct. 22,” Rand said.

Rand’s comments were, in part, in reaction to Myrick’s declaration of Nov. 20 as Transgender Day of Remembrance in the City of Ithaca.

Ary Stewart, another activist who was arrested at the Oct. 22 protest, also said IPD has been insensitive to transgender Ithacans and urged city officials to “set an example for how to lead public safety.” 

IPD did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Tammy Baker, a community outreach worker, was the only member of the public who spoke in favor of funding more officers during the meeting.

“Fewer officers would make my work harder. If the city decides to not fund more officers, it is setting us up to begin this exploration on the wrong foot,” she said, referring to the city’s ambitions for long-term police reform.

Both Deb Mohlenhoff (D-5th Ward) and Murtagh said Baker’s comment helped push him to vote in favor of funding two new police officers.

“This pathway to reform has to be in partnership with all of these other organizations,” Mohlenhoff said of community outreach groups, which are not funded by the city. “When some of these orgs are coming forward and telling us that it’s been increasingly difficult to do that one piece of the job that we have said is crucial to that reform, then I think we need to figure out how to find some sort of middle ground of this and support both sides of the equation.”

At the same time as public comment, anti-racist advocacy groups held an informational rally at the Bernie Miltion Pavillion, after which roughly 15 protesters marched to Ithaca City Hall to push for defunding, chanting “defund IPD” and the names of victims of racist police brutality, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. 

It was unclear whether any council members — whose meeting took place over Zoom — were present in the building to hear the chants.