Courtesy of the City of Ithaca

Lieutenant Thomas Kelly was selected to serve as new Ithaca's Chief of Police, which awaits Common Council's votes for approval on Dec. 6.

November 27, 2023

Thomas Kelly Named New Chief of Ithaca Police Department

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Lieutenant Thomas Kelly, of the Schenectady Police Department in Schenectady, New York, was named the chief of the Ithaca Police Department on Monday, Nov. 27 in a press release to The Sun. 

The city selected Kelly over John Poleway, who is an officer from Larchmont, New York. Kelly will be filling the role currently held by Acting Police Chief Ted Schwartz, who was not named a finalist in the search and will return to his role as Lieutenant of Investigations. Kelly will begin his position on Dec. 18.

The Common Council will have to approve Kelly’s appointment, which will occur in a vote on Dec. 6.

“I’m told that the sentiment of the search committee and the public feedback heavily favored Kelly so given our options I’m comfortable moving forward with him,” said Alderperson Ducson Nguyen (D-Second Ward), who said he would vote for Kelly in a statement to The Sun.

Kelly’s selection comes after a multi-year-long effort to find a permanent replacement for Dennis Nayor — who retired in May 2021 — that was fraught with multiple controversies and a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by former acting police chief John Joly, which is still ongoing. Mayor Laura Lewis (D) originally intended to appoint Joly as the city’s permanent police chief but shortly withdrew his April 2023 appointment following objections from Common Council members, who were upset by what they said was a lack of information regarding Joly’s selection — particularly as the selection committee that included three members of Common Council chose former IPD lieutenant Scott Garin instead. 

Joly promptly took an indefinite personal leave from the position and said he would sue the city regarding its allegation that he contributed to a hostile work environment. He eventually filed the lawsuit against the city in May 2023, saying the city fostered a hostile work environment towards him and discriminated against him as a white man, including a claim that Garin was favored because he was Black.

Following Joly’s departure, Schwartz was instituted as acting chief. Born and raised in Ithaca with nearly 12 years of experience at the IPD, this decision was supported by many colleagues at the police department. 

In late October, the city announced the two police chief finalists — Poleway and Kelly. The two contestants met on Nov. 2 for a formal meet-and-greet with the public, where they explained their visions for the department and sought the community’s approval.

Here, Kelly talked at large about the importance of tackling issues of implicit bias. He suggested the addition of implicit bias training in tandem with officers taking a moment in the field to slow down and make a fact-based decision.

Additionally, he spoke about the need for police departments to acknowledge the history of oppression and racial wrongdoings in order to create trusting relationships between the officers and members of marginalized communities.

“We have these conversations because maybe I wasn’t there, and maybe the police officer next to me wasn’t there, but it’s our problem,” Kelly said during the meet-and-greet. “We wear the same uniform.”

Kelly was not available for comment.