The mayor with Chief John Barber.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized the views of Council member JR Clairborne.

Ithaca, N.Y. — Ithaca Police Chief John Barber brought forward on Wednesday an alternative to the mayor’s proposed residency requirement for police officers.

Mayor Svante Myrick and Common Council member Steve Smith have backed legislation that would force new Ithaca police officers to live within the city limits.

Chief Barber suggested that instead of making officers live in the city indefinitely, perhaps they would only be required to do so for three years. After that, Chief Barber said, the officers would only be restricted to live in the county.

Barber spoke about his willingness to compromise. But he also spoke generally about the difficulty that would face officers required to live in the city.

For instance, he cited some stories from officers who he said served when the city did have a residency requirement (it was later eliminated).

Residents used to come up to the officer’s spouse and say, “Aren’t you that pig’s wife? Aren’t you the one going out with that pig?,” according to Chief Barber.

Someone wrote “pig” on the officer’s car, according to Barber.

Barber also suggested carving out an exemption for “lateral” officers who transfer from other local departments.

The mayor with Chief John Barber.
The mayor with Chief John Barber. File photo

Council members have mixed views

After Barber spoke, many of the Ithaca council members expressed sympathy with his points.

Donna Fleming, of the third ward, said she wasn’t convinced to be in favor of the residency requirement “on the face of it.”

“I don’t know why we’d single out police officers,” Fleming said.

Similarly, both council members Ellen McCollister and Cynthia Brock said they had concerns about the mayor’s proposal.

“We want to be respectful of an individual and the choices they make for their family,” Brock said.

McCollister spoke about the high price of living in the city.

“If you want to raise kids here it’s really tough,” McCollister said.

“Good policing is about training, it’s about education … it’s about good community policing. I think we can get all of that without the residency requirement.”

Pushback from others

Council member Smith, however, brought up the “trust divide” between the police and some members of the community.

Smith spoke about the sacrifices he makes for his job.

“I think it’s a fair sacrifice to ask people to consider,” Smith said.

Council member Seph Murtagh added that police officers are well paid and can afford living in Ithaca.

Mutagh noted that council members continually talk about the benefits of living in Ithaca.

“I would hope our new hires in the police department would share that enthusiasm,” Murtagh said.

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.