UPDATE: A previous version of this article, titled “Myrick apologizes, Council shows tepid response in first look at public safety reform package,” may have led readers to believe that Mayor Svante Myrick is apologizing for the reform package that was introduced this week. He is not—in his words, Myrick is apologetic about the timing of the GQ article that documented the reform package, but “fully stands behind the reform package.” The Ithaca Voice apologizes for the confusion. The article remains unchanged.
ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca’s Common Council got its first official look at the package of reforms for local law enforcement introduced by a team of local leaders earlier this week, showing a lukewarm response to changes that would impact the Ithaca Police Department, the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and more.
Mayor Svante Myrick led the presentation, with help from others deeply involved in the formulation of the Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative Draft Report, like Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino, county Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Deanna Carrithers, Ithaca College professors Belisa Gonzalez and Sean Eversley Bradwell, Tompkins County Director of Communications Dominick Recckio and City of Ithaca Director of Human Resources Schelley Michell-Nunn. The whole presentation is available for viewing here.
Another feedback session is being held Thursday night, Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. on YouTube, viewable here. The entire draft report is available for reading at the bottom of this article.
The presentation addressed each of the 19 recommendations in the draft report, most saliently the rebranding of the Ithaca Police Department as the Community Solutions and Public Safety Department, helmed by an appointed civilian leader, and the reassignment of police officers as Community Safety Officers and Community Solutions Officers, who would be armed and unarmed, respectively. There’s far more in there, including the strengthening of the Community Police Board and the establishment of a similar body at the county level, frequently updated public statistics on arrest figures, the repurposing of the SWAT vehicle and the creation of a Community Justice Center to assist with implementation, but it seems the first few points have snagged the majority of the attention so far.
Though Nayor had previously expressed his sentiments on the report to The Ithaca Voice, the meeting represented his first chance to directly air his grievances before Common Council and the public. Having previously called the reforms “radical,” he reiterated that charge and said that IPD officers are in a “crisis mode” regarding the future of the department. The Ithaca Police Benevolent Association has also issued a brief statement calling the reform package an overreach.
“The frustration, right now, is that this is such a radical plan that it’s basically looking to change the entire department where now people do not have job security,” Nayor said. “They’re in crisis mode because they don’t know if their jobs are secure, (…) and they’re the ones who day in and day out do everything they can to provide safety for the community.”
The majority of other concerns expressed by Common Council centered on the cost of the reforms, which remains unclear because how many of the recommendations are actually adopted is still under discussion at the city and county levels.
“The sooner we can understand the scope of what we’re hoping for, and what the impact that has on our budget, and what things might not be able to be funded and what impact that has on the plan will be really important, and the sooner we can get our heads wrapped around that the better,” said Common Council member Rob Gearhart.
“It is hard to make a decision about whether to go forward or not without these questions, and yet it’s hard to answer these questions without knowing whether we’re going to go forward,” Myrick said, trying to articulate the paradox of advancing.
Myrick also admitted that there were parts of the roll-out and communication around it that he had botched. The draft report and plan has gained national attention, as its release was accompanied by an article in GQ written by Wesley Lowery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter arguably the most prominent national journalist in the police reform field. The release of the article, though, has created tension among city and county officials who believe it focused too much on Myrick’s role in the report and was released too quickly, undercutting some of the report’s roll-out. In an internal email, Myrick apologized to Ithaca Police Department officers and members of Common Council for the timing of the story and for certain portions of the article that implied officers would have to re-apply to be part of the new department; he told The Ithaca Voice that he had “gotten out over (his) skis.”
“I know my serious errors in the rollout of this plan will negatively affect the chances of it being successful,” Myrick said in the internal email. “I hope that in time you can look past my mistakes to see the good smart work that so many people did to make this report.”
In an interview with The Ithaca Voice and comments to Common Council, Myrick clarified that the idea of the report is more focused on addressing structural issues with the department and policing overall as opposed to singling out certain personnel—hoping that would assuage some of the anxiety for IPD officers.
“If we were to create a new department, and there’s anybody in the Ithaca Police Department now that wouldn’t be fit to serve in that new department, then I would be seeking to remove them from the Ithaca Police Department,” he said to the Council members, while reiterating his faith in the current officers in IPD. “It’s not my intention that any of those officers would lose their jobs. The proposal is that there would be new positions, two new types of positions in the new department, and that officers would apply for one or the other if they are interested in serving in the new department.”