Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Ithaca Police Department Chief Dennis Nayor called the public safety proposal released last week too extreme.

March 4, 2021

Ithaca Police Officers Grapple With Department Overhaul

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Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 announced on Feb. 22 a proposal to end the current version of the Ithaca Police Department and to reimagine public safety — but the IPD said it had not been adequately informed before its release.

During last week’s Common Council Committee of the Whole and Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative meetings, Myrick apologized to the IPD for speaking to the magazine GQ before the IPD and to the members of the Common Council. IPD officers said they found out about the details of the proposal through the GQ article rather than from Myrick himself. 

“I want to reiterate my sincere apology for both speaking to the reporter [from GQ] before speaking to the Police Union about this recommendation and realizing … the timing, the tone was inappropriate,” Myrick said in the Reimagining Public Safety meeting on Thursday.

Still, despite the lack of communication on the release, Myrick told The Sun that the police chief and the IPD played a large role in drafting the report.

“The police chief was a part of the process every step of the way,” Myrick told The Sun. “The members of the police department were invited to participate in every step of the process, including focus groups … as well as the community forums surveys that helped inform the proposals.”

Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor said he played a role in collecting data on how many hours and the variety of training that officers received, answering questions about the proposal and providing some recommendations, such as stressing the need for mental health and wellness of officers. But Nayor said he didn’t see the recommendations from the proposal until they were already finalized.

“I had recommendations, but none of those were that out there,” Nayor told The Sun. “I’m still trying to digest [the proposal] as we speak.” 

Nayor, speaking on behalf of the department, said the IPD feels police officers have become the catch-all for most of Ithaca’s problems. Although Nayor said he agrees with Myrick that the department must focus on mental health, addiction and homelessness, the proposal is too “extreme” in his eyes.

“I feel that the department has always been recognized as a very highly trained department and that has standards that are beyond what most departments are,” Nayor said. “That’s not the type of department that you would dissolve and start over. That’s the type of department that you add some things on.”

The police chief added that the officers he spoke to feel devalued and dejected because they first learned about this sweeping change from GQ rather than the city. Nayor said some officers actively began to look for other places to work, some of the neighboring counties that are eager to recruit officers from the IPD. 

Nayor said he understands where his officers are coming from.

“I feel devalued also,” Nayor said. “I would have liked to have been more involved with the recommendations that went forward, so that I could be, being in the department, part of the evolution from here.”

Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward), the Community Police Board Common Council Liaison, told The Sun that the Community Police Board also did not see the draft report until it was released. The Community Police Board conducts investigations based on complaints from citizens, forwarding findings and recommendations to the chief and citizens involved, and will have their role expanded in the proposal. Kerslick said he believed that several members of the board had felt that they were left out of the process.

At last week’s Community Police Board meeting, members expressed their frustrations about their lack of notice about the proposal.

“GQ, I didn’t even know what GQ was, General Quarters or Got Quota or something,” Bruce Beem-Miller, a member of the board, said at the meeting. “I was definitely not contacted as a member of a focus group. When I read the draft of this reimagining, it was the first time I realized it was a lot more extensive than I had realized.”

Still, Kerslick said this process had been going for many months, and there was a significant amount of time for members of the Ithaca community to add their recommendations and suggestions, referring to the Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative meeting that started last August. 

However, others in the meeting disagreed.

 “Honestly Graham, it’s like walking into a room with 60 people that are talking at the same time,” Richard Onyejuruwa, a member of the board, said. “Even the things that were held virtually were held in a webinar style, so it really wasn’t this kind of interactive process.”

Kerslick emphasized that groups that weren’t heard before, including marginalized communities, were at the forefront of their outreach effort as prompted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) Executive Order 203. He added that the proposal had to be released eventually.

“We do have this rather short time frame to deliver the report to the state, otherwise we risk losing state funding, so that’s definitely important,” Kerslick said.