The Ithaca Common Council unanimously voted to pass the Reimagining Public Safety Plan, the proposal to fundamentally restructure the Ithaca Police Department that made waves last month. This vote comes after the Tompkins County Legislature voted to pass a County-specific version of the plan on Tuesday.
The Reimaging Public Safety Plan was created in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) Executive Order 203 last June, which required all state municipalities with police forces to review their policies and practices. The proposal featured input from community members and law enforcement, but had a specific focus on underrepresented communities.
Before the Common Council voted on the plan, Donna Fleming (D-3rd Ward) put forward a possible amendment to combine the recommendation, creating a new department and recommend creating a task force to design said department.
Fleming expressed concern that the wording “creating a new department” implied the removal of the current Ithaca Police Department, which is “not an implication we want to make,” she said.
Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward), seconded Fleming’s amendment, and was hesitant towards committing to the creation of a new department, arguing the proposal would be better heard from the task force as it did not benefit from the working group process.
“We need to be deliberate here. If the worry is you can have a task force and it could never complete its work, that’s a management issue. That’s not because the design of a task force itself is flawed,” said Brock.
Several members expressed caution towards this amendment. Mayor Svante Myrick ‘09, referencing the draft report, talked about the skepticism the marginalized groups showed towards the process of police reform.
“We need to, in this meeting right now, plant a flag and send a clear message to the public that we are creating something new, that this is where Council intends to go,” Stephen J. Smith (D-4th Ward) said in agreement.
Ducson Nguyen (D-2nd Ward) responded to Brock’s concern regarding the lack of clarity in the direction and overall goals of the new department, further advocating for creating the new department rather than simply having a task force design the new department.
“The culture and accountability issues we are faced with are management issues more than they are issues of a specific subject matter,” Nguyen said.
The amendment failed to pass by a 6-4 vote. George McGonigal (D-1st Ward), Fleming, Brock and Laura Lewis (D-5th Ward) voted yes.
Instead, the Council decided to tentatively rename the Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety to the Department of Public Safety.
McGonigal later presented an amendment to call the unit of armed, uniformed first responders police officers, emphasizing how important the identity of being a police officer was to them. The amendment passed.
McGonial said the unit will be composed of members who “shall qualify in all respects under New York State law as police officers.”
Some members, before commencing the final vote, spoke about the hope they have for the future because of this process.
“This is a baby step and it’s a first step and it’s a step in the good direction and it does give me hope that we have people who are willing to come to the table and do the hard work and build this together,” said Deborah Mohlenhoff (D-5th Ward).