Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Members of the Community Police Board and IPD acting chief John Joly at a meeting at the Ithaca City Hall on Sept. 28.

September 29, 2022

Ithaca Community Police Board Discusses Subpoena Power, Third-Party Partnerships

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Ithaca’s Community Police Board welcomed the public back to in-person meetings on Wednesday as they discussed several issues, including introducing a third-party police training organization into the Ithaca Police Department and an alleged call from the Common Council to give the Board subpoena power. 

The CPB is Ithaca’s community liaison and civilian oversight board for policing in Ithaca. Their duties include fostering positive relationships between Ithacans and the IPD and investigating formal complaints made by citizens against the department or its officers.

Acting Police Chief John Joly announced that IPD, with the support of the Common Council, has brought in a third-party company, Lexipol, to provide new policies, training methods and other aid to the department. The company has partnered with over 1,000 municipalities nationwide, about 160 of those are in New York State, according to Joly. The partnership between Lexipol and IPD has already yielded 15 new policies that have been distributed to officers, according to Joly. 

Joly has also brought in the online training organization PoliceOne Academy to train IPD officers in conflict de-escalation, mental health services, homeless outreach work and implicit bias. There is also a new community outreach effort spearheaded by Sergeant Mary Orsaio, IPD’s LGBTQ+ Liaison, which aims to send several officers to community spaces and provide Ithacans with the opportunity to interact with officers in non-enforcement situations.

Later in the meeting, Alderperson George McGonigal, chairman of the Common Council’s Special Reimagining Public Safety subcommittee, invited the CPB to present at the subcommittee’s Oct. 11 meeting. The subcommittee aims to reform policing in Ithaca and Tompkins County to better serve the community and decrease the chance of violent confrontation. In doing so, it publishes recommendations to the mayor’s office on changes that may need to be made to Ithaca’s policing systems.

CPB Chair Shirley Kane raised the question of whether the Reimagining Public Safety subcommittee would recommend subpoena power for the CPB. Member Rick Rogers said that he confirmed this was a discussion the subcommittee had during an informal meeting with Councilwoman Cynthia Brock, though McGonigal said he was unaware of prior discussions. 

With subpoena power, the CPB would have the ability to legally force witnesses and parties in its investigations to provide testimony, documentation and other evidence.

Nearly all CPB members expressed reservations regarding subpoena power. Members raised concerns about the financial burden of retaining a lawyer for these purposes, and many members said they felt this power was unnecessary. Joly said he fears that officers — who currently cooperate voluntarily with CPB investigations — would not in the future. He also said that there is a lack of communication from the Common Council to IPD in the Reimagining discussions.

“As this process of Reimagining has gone on, we — particularly myself, many other members of the department — have been left out, and there have been conversations involving the police department that we haven’t been able to be vocal in expressing what we would like,” Joly said during the meeting. “I think that the city should point to [the CPB] more often, and it should be more of a collaborative effort.”

Following the discussion on the Reimagining subcommittee, the Board adjourned for executive investigation meetings.