The Reimagining Public Safety special committee met on Tuesday to discuss recommendations for the Community Police Board, including the possibility of giving the CPB subpoena power.
The Reimagining Public Safety special committee was developed in 2021 by the Tompkins County Legislature to recommend and research police reforms to rebuild trust between law enforcement and community members. The CPB is designed to serve as Ithaca’s community liaison and civilian oversight board for policing within the Ithaca Police Department. CPB duties include fostering positive relationships between Ithacans and the IPD and investigating formal complaints made by citizens against the department or its officers.
The CPB was invited to the committee meeting to discuss how the two bodies can better communicate with each other and establish guidelines that will lead to more effective oversight.
CPB member Michael Simons began the meeting by giving an overview of how the Board conducts its investigations. Each complaint against the IPD must be submitted through a paper complaint form to the city clerk. Then the CPB appoints at least two commissioners to investigate the complaint, interview witnesses and officers and analyze hours of bodycam footage.
CPB Chair Shirley Kane then addressed reports that the Reimagining Public Safety committee was proposing giving the CPB subpoena power. Kane stated that the CPB operated under a charter and that a charter amendment would take a significant amount of time to enact any drastic changes.
“We prefer the method of resolutions rather than an adversarial model, which imposing a subpoena would be,” Kane said. “It would be additional funding, we have to have an attorney.”
The Reimagining Public Safety report says that subpoena power is recommended in order to build a more trusting relationship between the Ithaca community and the CPB, ensuring that the issues of misconduct are thoroughly and fairly investigated.
Additionally, CPB member Michael Simons asked what the CPB was currently doing wrong, to which Kane added that five former IPD officers are no longer active in the department due to prior CPB reports, so the Board feels it is able to perform effectively. The Reimagining Public Safety committee did not respond to this inquiry, but members implied that the idea of subpoena power would be dropped.
Committee member and Alderperson Cynthia Brock then detailed three recommendations that she has for the CPB. First, Brock recommended changes in the CPB review process.
“I would like to see structural changes that ensure that the Chief of Police and police officers should participate in the CPB review process. It should not come down to personalities of who’s on the Board or who’s Chief of Police,” Brock said. “I would like to see that discretion to participate or not taken out.”
Second, Brock said she would like all CPB members to receive training and certifications by organizations that provide training to community police boards across the country, like the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement in order to reinforce collaboration and trust with law enforcement.
Third, Brock suggested hiring a third-party organization trained in internal affairs investigations to look into high-profile incidents that have an increased level of public scrutiny and may exceed the resources of CPB, in addition to avoiding any conflicts of interest.
The committee also spoke with IPD Special Investigations Unit Sergeant Matt Cowen about training programs that police officers have attended recently, including training for implicit bias, microaggressions, de-escalation techniques, transgender mindfulness and procedural justice. The committee affirmed that they would like to see more reality-based training and programming with the local community.
“We want to provide more training, and especially reality-based training, where it’s in the moment and it can be evaluated in real time,” Cowen said.
To conclude the public portion of the meeting, members discussed ongoing research projects they have been working on, studying unarmed response teams and their implementation in police departments across the country, the expansion of whistle-blower protections and different approaches to traffic enforcement.
“Innovation doesn’t have to be us reinventing the wheel,” Alderperson Robert Cantelmo said. “If there’s stuff out there that we have underexplored in the past, we would be happy to support that.”