Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick proposes to replace the Ithaca Police Department with Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety.

February 23, 2021

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 Proposes Ithaca Policing Overhaul

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Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 announced his proposal to end the current version of the Ithaca Police Department and to reimagine public safety, responding to months of activist demands and years more of community tension.

The summer’s incendiary events and resulting protests nationwide have prompted reconsideration of police departments, including a June 2020 New York State executive order requiring local governments to conduct comprehensive reviews of their police departments. In Ithaca, weekly rallies pushed the city to consider policing alternatives — Myrick’s Monday proposal was the latest of their reforms. 

The main part of the proposal is to reimagine community and public safety — shifting responsibility away from armed police officers to public safety workers, to reduce the need for armed officers in day-to-day civilian calls. 

In the past, Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor has explained that one-third of the department’s time is spent on “service calls” — which never lead to arrest. For a department that was already strained with eight position vacancies up until November 2020, spending time on these calls means there are fewer resources to dedicate to crime and increased risk of armed officers mishandling situations to be deescalated.

“Those calls, as well as a majority of patrol activity, can and should be handled by unarmed Community Solution Workers well trained in de-escalation and service delivery,” Myrick wrote in the proposal introduction. “This will allow our new Public Safety Workers to focus on preventing, interrupting and solving serious crime.”

Instead of a police chief, all community solution and public safety workers would report to a civilian director of public safety. This director would head the proposed Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety, effectively replacing the 63-officer, $12.5 million a year police department.

Under the proposal, all current officers would have to re-apply for a position with the new department.

The new department hopes to heal fractured relationships between local law enforcement and Black and Brown communities by creating this new department from the ground up, city officials explained at their Monday press conference.. 

In addition to months of weekly rallies for Black lives and consistent chants to defund IPD, the department has had its own share of controversies in the past few years, ranging from derogatory statements caught on body camera and petitions to remove the deputy chief to allegations of workplace bias by a terminated officer. 

The announcement contrasts the long-standing position of some city officials, many of whom just a few months ago stressed the need for keeping the IPD. The city fought for months with activists over the 2021 budget and how much, if at all, to cut IPD’s current budget. Activists proposed an 80 percent cut, to $2.5 million in September 2020.    

In a town hall on Dec. 11, 2020, Myrick agreed that the city should consider ways to fund social services, but at the time affirmed that they were not going to cut the Ithaca Police Department by 80 percent — one of the main calls of protesters.

But on Monday, Myrick explained why he decided to release the proposal — which will not cut the budget, but instead reallocate it — emphasizing the partnerships between the city and Tompkins County, as well as the research that went into crafting the recommendations. 

“It charts a very clear path forward,” Myrick said. “It is clear, from the focus groups, from the surveys, from the data from call types itself, everything is pointing in the same direction: that we need a new form of safety and equity.” 

Last summer, Myrick and Chief of Police Dennis Nayor released IPD’s use of force policy, responding to over year-long demands for this act of transparency. They were made public in June, after the country erupted into protests in the aftermath of the police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd.

This proposal is the latest in Ithaca’s steps toward systematic change — which GQ called the “most ambitious effort yet to reform policing.”

Town officials developed the initiative in a partnership with the Center for Policing Equity, a national nonprofit that partners with local law enforcement agencies to address police reform. National experts including Dr. Tracie Keesee, co-founder of the CPE, were involved in developing Ithaca’s proposal since the beginning stages. 

As these recommendations are carried out in the Ithaca community, both Myrick and Keesee emphasized the need for transparency and continued community input on the proposal. 

“This report is not a period or an exclamation mark but more like a semicolon toward a continued process, where we can continue to come up with even more recommendations,” Myrick said at the Monday press conference. 

But the written proposal isn’t the end of the road after years of calls in Ithaca for police reform. The recommendations will soon be sent to the Tompkins County Legislature and Common Council, where they will face approval by the city’s governing body. 

“The real work will begin once this is approved and moves onto the community,” Keesee said. “This proposal was not designed to sit on the shelf, but to move both the city and the county forward.”

Olivia Cipperman ’23 contributed to reporting.