On March 22, City officials and Ithaca community members gathered on Zoom to participate in a town hall discussing the Reimagining Public Safety Working Group’s report and suggestions on the creation of a new public safety agency.
The report announced the creation of a Department of Community Safety, an agency formed as a result of New York State Executive Order 203, which requires all local government agencies with police forces to perform a comprehensive review of police deployments, strategies and procedures.
The executive order was a direct response to the murder of George Floyd, which caused national unrest relating to race and policing in 2020. The new department hopes to address the problem of racially biased policing with deployment of non-law enforcement first responders, according to the Working Group’s report.
“It’s time to move away from the one-size-fits-all model that most communities have that over relies on police to solve every single problem,” Eric Rosario, co-lead of the Working Group, said during the town hall meeting. “It produces unnecessary interactions with the criminal justice system for many members of the community, particularly for members of the Black and brown community.”
Rosario and the Working Group Co-Lead Karen Yearwood presented the group’s plan for the organization and duties of the new agency. Under the suggested proposal, the Commissioner of Community Safety would preside over two departments: an armed Division of Police and an unarmed Division of Community Solutions.
Responsibility for emergency responses will be spread across the two divisions, with police responding to calls about violent crime and the unarmed responders attending to situations that do not require armed enforcement, such as property checks and traffic collisions.
The presentation also addressed training protocols for the Department of Community Safety, which include alternatives to force and de-escalation tactics to create a community-centered model.
To execute this plan, a budget of $1.15 million was proposed for the new department for staff salaries and equipment costs. This budget is in addition to the $12.8 million that the Ithaca Police Department received for its 2022 budget.
The Working group also emphasized that the plan will not defund or abolish the IPD.
“There are a number of steps that need to occur before we reach some decisions. There will be a lot of debate and we look forward to the community’s input on that debate,” Acting Mayor Laura Lewis said during the presentation.
Following the presentation, a Q&A session moderated by Schelley Michell-Nunn, director of human resources for the City of Ithaca, was opened to the public.
The audience’s questions included concerns about the new department’s ability to recruit police officers to the ability of Ithaca’s reform efforts to play a role nationally.
Robin Trumble, who works with Ithacans for Reimagining Public Safety, questioned if responders from the new department would be Ithaca residents, saying a current issue with the IPD is that many officers do not live in the city.
In a later interview with the Sun, Trumble said that the plan is a step in the right direction for addressing institutionalized racism and the gap between public safety officers and civilians.
“I think that reinventing any kind of system for the people needs to be built up from the ground level,” Trumble said.
Trumble also said that he hoped other cities nationwide could take inspiration from Ithaca’s reforms in the future. He described the plan as something that could have an important impact on public safety.
“I think there’s a lot of division between people, especially of my age, and the police, and this project stands to try to help bridge that gap,” Trumble said.
The Reimagining Public Safety Working Group is encouraging community feedback on the full report, and they plan to discuss recommendations at the April Common Council meeting.