Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer

April 2, 2021

Mayor Svante Myrick’s ’09 Police Overhaul Proposal, Explained

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Weeks after Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 made national headlines for unveiling a sweeping proposal to replace the Ithaca Police Department with a civilian-led agency, the city and county have both approved the recommendations. 

With the proposal passed by both Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca, here is everything you need to know.

The plan includes 19 recommendations that aim to increase transparency, accountability and trust between local law enforcement and residents. But the recommendation that has gotten the most attention locally and nationally is the first —  for the city to create a new department with armed workers, including previous IPD officers, and unarmed workers who will be trained to respond to different types of crises. 

A new Community Justice Center composed of new staff members and city and county employees will implement these recommendations that include expanded powers for community police boards, new community transparency initiatives and attempts to diversify the department.

Since the city released the proposal in late February, the Tompkins County Legislature voted to pass the plan in a 11-2 vote on Tuesday, and the Ithaca Common Council unanimously passed it Wednesday. The resolution will now be sent to the governor and the city and county will begin to implement the recommendations.

Myrick and the city undertook the planning process after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) Executive Order 203 that required state cities and counties to develop a plan to improve law enforcement within their communities. They worked with five working groups to gather suggestions over Zoom forums, surveys and interviews — hearing from law enforcement and members of marginalized communities. 

The Ithaca Common Council unanimously voted in favor of the reform plan on March 31. (John Yoon/Sun City Editor)

Sustained skepticism of the public safety review limited these focus groups, wary these police reforms will fail to achieve anything, according to the proposal on page 30. But Myrick maintains that the plan is the best option for reimagining public safety. 

The Tompkins County’s final resolution can be found here. The Ithaca Common Council’s final resolution can be found here.

Here are the 19 recommendations of Myrick’s original proposal, annotated with background information and additional details. The original wording of the recommendations may have changed from the wording in the draft proposal:

Create new department | Alternative crisis intervention | Pilot program for non-emergency calls | Traffic stop data | New training | Community healing plan | Standardize & review data

Community dashboard | Tompkins County Public Safety Review Board | New recruitment strategy | Program for officer wellness | NYS trooper collaboration | Review SWAT vehicle use | Review SWAT use | Community Police Board | Disclose district attorney statistics | Revise civil service exam | Continuous recruitment | Reform disciplinary procedure for law enforcement

1. City: Replace the City of Ithaca Police Department with a Community Solutions and Public Safety Department.

Responding to months of local and national calls to “defund the police,” the draft report, on page 14, first states that those the city and county surveyed in focus groups didn’t actively express this sentiment — instead, they more broadly pushed for change. 

This recommendation would create a new department that includes all current IPD officers, replacing it with a civilian-led agency of both armed and unarmed workers. This structure would shrink the number of calls that armed officers are supposed to respond to. 

The unarmed workers, called community solutions officers, would respond to calls that don’t involve potential violence, like directing traffic after an accident or aiding a stranded motorist. However, the specifics of the job will have to be designed with input from the community, the new department, colleges and counties.

Armed public safety workers will continue the role of current police officers. A police chief will lead the armed responders, and the chief will report to the civilian head of the department. A civilian position will increase the applicant pool of candidates beyond those with a background in law enforcement, giving the city more leeway to choose the most qualified candidate that will create a sense of public safety.

Denying calls among some constituents for police abolition, Myrick and the Common Council have clarified in the resolution that all officers will keep their jobs, contract, titles and have the same pay and benefits. City Attorney Ari Lavine confirmed Wednesday that the department name change will not impact the collective bargain agreement with the police union, the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association.

The IPBA originally expressed concerns about this recommendation because it uses the word “intend” — to keep the jobs and benefits of officers — which they said falls short of a guarantee. The language has since been revised to say “shall implement.” 

The police union also alleges that the proposal is a form of union busting, as uncertainty around the department has caused the union to lose a member, with two more planning to leave the department in the coming months.

“That’s a way of busting a union, by literally making working conditions so poor that members have no other choice but to leave, decreasing the membership to a point where there’s no ability for the union to be able to sustain itself financially or otherwise,” said Thomas Condzella ’08, president of the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association.

The IPBA has backed many parts of the proposal, but said the first recommendation to create a new department feels too extreme to support. They believe the best way to have successful police reform is through the current existing foundations with the IPD. However, the IPBA maintains that they are still open to a restructured department.

“If a restructured Department that provides a broader and more enhanced public safety response, including the response of Ithaca Police Officers, is better represented by a different name, we are supportive of that, especially if it is meaningful and needed for our Community,” Condzella wrote to The Sun.

Myrick argued that creating a new department will allow the city to build a new culture of communication, transparency and accountability — starting from scratch instead of relying on how the IPD operated. According to Myrick, the 19 recommendations will allow the city to invest in community building to prevent crimes from occuring.

“I see all our police officers themselves working so hard and going out of their way to be selfless and to be brave, and still the system and the structure setting us up for mistrust, failure and for a lot of outrage,” Myrick said in the political podcast Pod Save America on March 4.

Some activists have remained skeptical of the plan, arguing that it does not actually solve the ingrained structural issues of policing that are deeply rooted in white supremacy — instead, they argue, it simply rebrands the department and gives it $1 million more in funding.

The Solidarity Slate, three candidates running in 2021 on a progressive platform for Ithaca’s Common Council, have all said that they do not believe the proposal addresses the root of the issue.

“We have not talked about the core of policing. First we need a clear picture of what policing means,” Common Council candidate Phoebe Brown said. “A lot of us believe policing is to protect us, and the truth of it is that it comes from policing Indigenous people and slaves, so it’s about protecting property, not people. We haven’t talked about that root first.”

In the city’s resolution, the first recommendation has evolved into two recommendations

“Create a new department, tentatively named the Department of Public Safety (DPS), which may be led by a civilian to manage various public safety functions in the City.” 

“Create a task force to design the new department.”

In the passed resolution, Common Council did not give the armed unit a name, but these armed workers will qualify under New York State law as police officers. In addition, the Common Council gave the task force until Sept. 1, 2021, to submit their recommendations on how to implement the resolution to the Common Council.

The Tompkins County Legislature voted Tuesday in favor of passing the resolution on police reform. (John Yoon/Sun City Editor)

2. City & County: Evaluate existing models and implement an alternative to law enforcement response system for crisis intervention and wraparound health and human services delivery.

The first recommendation occupied most of the conversation following the plan’s February announcement — with people on both sides of police reform criticizing the departmental change. The following recommendations were not discussed in as much detail as the first recommendation.

Building on the first recommendation, the second states that both the city and the county will create a new model to address calls unrelated to crimes. According to the draft report, on page 7, from 2017 to 2020, a third of calls IPD responded to did not result in arrest.

According to the draft report, on page 31, residents who participated in focus groups did not trust police to adequetly handle mental health concerns or assist people with disabilities. In response, the plan proposes unarmed, non-uniformed workers to respond to these calls. 

Currently, Tompkins County’s public safety and health and human services departments provide emergency social service assistance. The proposal recommends these existing departments serve as the responding agencies in the new model. In Ithaca, the city will utilize the new unarmed workers proposed in Recommendation 1.

While the new system would increase resources to non-uniformed agencies, it would not create substantial changes for current law enforcement resources.

3. County: Better align available resources with emergency response needs by establishing a pilot program for non-emergency calls.

The draft report suggests, on page 66, that civilian staff respond to non-emergency calls that can be handled over the phone and put a system in place to identify calls that an unarmed officer would respond to.  

Non-emergency responses include car collisions with animals, processing crime tips or traffic complaints. It also includes grant management and vehicle maintenance scheduling, which would be handled by a civilian employee in the new public safety department.

4. County: Collect and evaluate the results of officer-initiated traffic stop enforcement.

Though traffic stops rarely result in fines being paid — more than half of traffic stop enforcements were dismissed in 2020 according to page 68 of the draft report — these stops are the most common way community members come in contact with the police.

This recommendation proposes an audit of traffic stops to better understand the demographics and amounts of tickets given, especially to analyze the effects on Black and brown communities. By reducing traffic stops, those who drafted the proposal hope to also free up more officer time to interact with the community or focus on work that requires a uniformed officer.

5. County & City: Identify new curriculum, redesign and implement a culturally-responsive training program that incorporates de-escalation and mental health components into a comprehensive response for law enforcement.

According to the results from the draft report, on page 35, many in the community want stronger police training. Focus group participants also emphasized, on page 32, a need for the training to be ongoing rather than a one-time experience.

According to the draft proposal, focus groups thought law enforcement did not adequately know how to deal with situations involving calls related to mental illness, disability and interacting with members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The first recommendation would create a new department that includes all current Ithaca Police Department officers, replacing it with a civilian-led agency of both armed and unarmed workers. (Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer)

6. County & City: Develop a comprehensive community healing plan to address trauma in the relationship between residents and law enforcement.

Some members of the focus groups ultimately did not feel safe going to the police for help, according to page 31 of the draft report.

However, law enforcement said in the draft report, on page 33, that some members of the public are unfairly targeting them and that most of the community supports them. Still, law enforcement acknowledged in the proposal the need to build trust with the community. 

The plan proposes a long-term commitment to healing — to address trauma experienced at the hands of law enforcement and to provide a space to increase trust between law enforcement officers and the community. They wrote that “leading experts in trauma-informed healing” would conduct the trainings and offer tools, but did not provide further details.

7. County & City: Standardize data entry and review existing data sets for more actionable insights and allocation of public safety resources.

The draft report claims that better access to data will allow both Ithaca and Tompkins County to reduce the law enforcement footprint and increase health and human services support.

This builds on the focus groups’ discomfort interacting with law enforcement, offering more everyday interaction with unarmed workers, who would be able to contribute to stronger feelings of community public safety. 

8. County & City: Develop a real-time public safety community dashboard. 

The dashboard will allow the public to view calls for service in real time — an opportunity for better community transparency in investigations, terminations and accountability of officers. It would include information on how law enforcement time is being spent and community trends. 

9. County: Create a Tompkins County Public Safety Review Board. 

Currently, Tompkins County does not have a Public Safety Review Board, unlike the city of Ithaca. Community police boards, like Ithaca’s, conduct internal investigations into reports of police officer misconduct and can increase police accountability. 

Input from the community, individuals and focus groups all mentioned wanting more police oversight from the community.

In the county’s resolution, the wording has changed from the original proposal to only consider creating this review board: “Evaluate the Creation of a Tompkins County Public Safety Review Board,” the new recommendation reads.

Members of the county legislature expressed concerns with creating a Public Safety Review Board, referencing Recommendation 15 that states that the City of Ithaca is requesting to give more power to its Community Police Board and wants to figure out the best way to create the board first.

A new dashboard would include information on how law enforcement time is being spent and community trends. (Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer)

10. County & City: Develop a comprehensive, inclusive, and innovative recruitment strategy for law enforcement and corrections officers.

The draft report does not lay out specific plans on how to improve recruitment strategies, but does recommend placing a greater emphasis on recruiting and retaining people of color to better represent and serve the community. This recommendation addresses one common concern that police forces do not accurately represent the diversity of the community they serve.

According to data described on page 38 of the draft report, within the current IPD leadership, one out of the four police lieutenants is Black, and one out of nine sergeants is Hispanic. There are no people of color serving command, the chief and the two deputy chiefs. Among the 45 officers, there are two Asian police officers, six Black officers and two Hispanic officers.

11. County & City: Develop a County-wide program to promote and support holistic officer wellness.

The program will incorporate successful elements from Tompkins County’s current Probation and Community Justice Department peer support program, which connects police officers together and offers peer support sessions to reduce stress. The new program will focus on physical and mental wellness by connecting officers together and providing support sessions.

12. County & City: Seek ongoing and responsive collaboration from New York State Troopers operating in Tompkins County.

New York State troopers will be encouraged to participate in the various training programs present in the recommendations.

13. County & City: Repurpose SWAT Mobile Command Vehicle to Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response and Develop Policies for Use of Mobile Command Vehicle, Centers.

The IPD SWAT team has 20 members — including 15 members from the IPD and the five from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office. The team has been called once or twice a month to respond to threatening situations in the county.

The draft report found that the community wanted the police to be demilitarized, singling out the military grade weapons and SWAT Mobile Command Vehicle. This vehicle is used by the Critical Incident and Negotiation Team — a group of officers who conduct negotiations — to store tactical gear and as a command center by administrators and staff.

The report proposes that the SWAT Mobile Command Vehicle be rebranded to be used for emergency response and given to the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response. 

But the Tompkins County Legislature voted Tuesday to take this recommendation out of their resolution. Instead, the legislature voted to conduct an analysis of how to use the SWAT vehicle if the city did not want to keep it.

On Wednesday, the city committed to keep the SWAT vehicle for now.

In the city’s resolution, the wording of the recommendation has changed and now only applies to the city.

The new recommendation reads:

“Develop a joint community and IPD-TCSO task force that will review the use of Truck 99 and explore alternative or expanded functions.The resulting plan should maximize the truck’s use in enhancing public safety and supporting crisis management, educate the community about the expanded role, and respect the origins and legacy and spirit of the CINT program in Ithaca.”

The city will continue to review the use of the SWAT Vehicle and will work to educate the public on what the vehicle does, while also tailoring it to best increase public safety.

Ithaca Police Department on March 22, 2020. (Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer)

14. County & City: Conduct a Review of SWAT Callouts to Determine Appropriate Use of Service and Equipment.

The draft report, on page 87, calls for a committee that includes the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, dispatch, Ithaca Police Department, city and county administration and members of the community to review the use of the SWAT team.

Concerns from the community, according to the draft report, on page 35, about the militarization of the police has led both the city and county to better define when SWAT teams are used. 

SWAT Commander Jake Young said Tuesday during the Tompkins County Legislature meeting that the city and IPD are discussing many suggestions, including renaming SWAT.

15. City: Grant City of Ithaca Community Police Board More Oversight Authority.

While the Community Police Board, a board of members chosen by Common Council, can conduct internal investigations, they can only make recommendations to the police chief who can take action.

The draft report proposes, on page 88, to allow the board to conduct full internal investigations by issuing subpoenas and notices of discipline, as well as hiring external investigators. This would allow the Community Police Board to conduct more thorough investigations and provide information to the community.

16. County: Require public disclosure of District Attorney and Assigned Counsel Office Statistics on a quarterly and annual basis.

The draft report recommended, on page 89, the county district attorney and assigned counsel should increase transparency by reporting demographic, dismissal and prosecution data and statistics on a quarterly and annual basis.

With concerns of accountability from those that participated in community input present in the draft proposal, on page 35, the data would support to address those concerns..

17. County & City: Revise the Civil Service exam process to diversify law enforcement personnel.

Currently, police departments are only allowed to hire from the three highest ranking candidates from the civil service exam to become an officer. The draft report recommends New York State to instead have a pass/fail test to expand the applicant pool, especially for candidates of color.

18. County & City: Advocate for New York State to grant local civil service authorities the authority to enact “continuous recruitment” of eligible candidates for law enforcement personnel.

The draft report recommends, on page 93, that the Department of Public Safety accept examinations without an application deadline to create more opportunities for a more diverse and expanded pool of applicants.

19. County & City: Urge Governor Cuomo and/or the New York State Legislature to reform disciplinary procedures for law enforcement personnel under Civil Service Law Section 75. 

The New York State Civil Service Law Section 75 prolongs the disciplinary process for law enforcement. The draft report, on page 96, proposes a change of this policy so municipalities can create their own disciplinary procedures and better hold officers accountable.