ITHACA, N.Y. — One encounter with a police officer can completely change how a person feels about all police officers. That’s clear to newly appointed Ithaca Police Department Acting Chief Pete Tyler because one encounter with an officer is the reason he joined the force 26 years ago.
“Growing up, I never envisioned myself being a police officer. That really had never crossed my mind,” Tyler said. “And when I came back to Ithaca — I think it was when I got out of the Army — I ran into a friend of mine who had become a New York Trooper. So that initial contact with him and seeing him in his trooper uniform was a very pivotal moment for me.”
At the time he took the civil service exam to become an officer, he’d just finished serving two years in the Army.
Tyler, 48, grew up in the Ithaca area and officially moved to the city with his family when he was 15 years old.
After graduation, he enlisted in the Army and attended boot camp at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, before serving the rest of his time at Fort Carson, near the city of Colorado Springs.
After his return to Ithaca, his life almost took a completely different route. He nearly began working at the Ithaca Fire Department, where he volunteered before taking the civil service exam to be a firefighter.
“It just so happened that I got called first by IPD,” he said.
Since then, Tyler still serves as a volunteer firefighter with the Dryden Fire Department. But he’s never regretted his move to become an officer
He rose through the ranks at IPD, often in the same time frame as newly retired IPD chief John Barber.
The two men were squad partners since almost the beginning of their career, sharing the same days off and often working together. They were both on the SWAT team and Tyler served as Deputy Chief under Barber. Tyler was promoted to sergeant in 2004, to lieutenant in 2007 and became deputy chief in 2009.
The two men not only worked together, they also became close personal friends.
He said, “We shared a lot of the same passion for training and community outreach, to name two of the more important aspects of what I think IPD represents. Being a professional police officer, coming to work every day, knowing that your job is to serve the public and to do it in a manner that is respected, is appreciated and can hold up to scrutiny.”
“I would like to think that the people in the city of Ithaca feel like the Ithaca Police Department is their community police department. They’re their officers. That we are all a part of something. We’re not a separate occupying force. We work very hard at community action and outreach,” Tyler said.
He said he and Barber hold those beliefs in common and work to instill those values in the officers they lead. For Tyler, that meant teaching officers a variety of different tactics.
“My big passion in the Ithaca Police Department was becoming a trainer,” he said, specializing in defensive tactics and firearms instruction.
Defensive tactics are essentially arrest techniques but include many intricacies, such as how to be aware of one’s surroundings, how to interact with a person who might be highly agitated or stressed, and how to keep themselves and nearby people safe by using less lethal tactics whenever possible.
“John and I have been working together before his retirement in his administration achieving a lot of the goals we’ve set forth in the department…,” Tyler said.
If he is permanently selected as the IPD chief, he said that he’d be excited to continue training the next generation of leadership and continuing a focus on community issues.
“I’m excited about that aspect,” he said.
For instance, staffing the Community Action Team with two officers is near the top of his list. The CAT team was approved by Common Council in 2014 and hasn’t been staffed yet because the department didn’t have the personnel, Tyler said. But with recent new hires at IPD, CAT can be implemented.
The officers assigned to the team would communicate with people in the community — walking through neighborhoods, spending times in schools and helping identify problems between officers and community members.
“At the end of the day, though, I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this agency and even given an opportunity to interview for the position of police chief. I think that’s a unique honor. John’s administration left it in a really, really good place. I’m hoping to seamlessly transition into that and continue a lot of the good things we’ve already started or are in place,” Tyler said.