This is a Community Announcement published by the City of Ithaca about its Reimagining Public Safety process. Other than the brief, indicated intro, it was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit Community Announcements please send them to Matt Butler at Mmbutler@ithacavoice.com.
The City of Ithaca is continuing conversations on its Reimagining Public Safety process, and has now published another Q&A regarding some of the most frequent queries about the plan.
Is the City abolishing its police department?
No. The City is maintaining armed police officers as a part of a newly redesigned department encompassing a wider response to public safety needs, including unarmed community responders.
When will changes take effect?
If Common Council adopts the report the City of Ithaca will begin implementing the suggestions outlined in the report. This would be anticipated to be a process occurring over several years and encompassing several budget cycles at the City.
How long is the report and where is it accessible?
The report is published in a 41-page document, with a four-page executive summary found on pages six through nine. The report also has documents added as appendices, though those do not constitute the report’s suggestions.
Each section of suggestions within the report is outlined on the Reimagining Public Safety Website. Click the links below to further explore each section if you do not want to read the document.
• Naming of the new department
• Leadership of the new department
• Names and leadership structure of divisions within the new department
• Key responsibilities of new divisions
• Call delineation (between armed and unarmed responders)
• Staffing levels, beat design, and shift assignments
• Training protocols
• Equipment and technology needs
• Research and data needs
Printed copies of the report are available at City Hall (108 E. Green St. Ithaca) and at the Tompkins County Public Library (101 E. Green St. Ithaca).
You can watch and listen to video overviews of the document’s content presented via PowerPoint; at the March 2, 2022 City Council Meeting, the March 22, 2022 community town hall, and the upcoming March 31 Black town hall with Southside Community Center.
The report asks for five community responders, why just five? There are a number of call types they would be responsible for and five might not be able to cover that many calls.
The Working Group suggested five responders as an initial group as the new processes and procedures would need to be further defined and developed if this model were to be adopted. Working with the potential Commissioner of Community Safety, City Council could choose to add more responders to this unit if the suggested model was implemented.
It is also specified in the report that initially coverage of calls would continue to be in conjunction with police officers based on capacity and the nature of the call being dispatched.
Was law enforcement, specifically the Ithaca Police Department, involved in the drafting of this plan by the Working Group?
Yes. Three Ithaca Police Department officers, including the current Police Benevolent Association (police union) President, were members of the working group and several of its subcommittees, and actively participated in the creation of this plan. In the March, 2021 Common Council resolution adopting the initial Reimagining recommendations and initiating a working group, it stated: This task force shall include some combination of IPD staff, other City staff, Alderpersons, interested City residents, and outside experts or consultants A full list of Working Group members and technical advisors can be found on page 41 of the report.
How is the City of Ithaca building trust with members of the community? It seems that community members and employees of the police department are questioning the process and outcomes of this report.
The City of Ithaca believes that trust between local government and the community is critical for the community’s safety and success. For this reason, a diverse working group bringing together community members from different backgrounds to create a series of suggestions was implemented. The report is a product of this working group made up of community members.
This report is not the only Reimagining Public Safety plan. There is ongoing work related to the Community Healing Plan, plans to further support community policing strategies, and integrating community members in every aspect of plan development and implementation.
Part of the ongoing work of the Ithaca Police Department, City staff, and elected officials is to communicate with and hear from the public. This is important in order to build relationships, trust, and two-way communication.
Many community members, specifically community members of color, trusted the Reimagining Collaborative with their perspectives, experiences, and ideas as expressed in the initial Reimagining report. The ongoing work of Reimagining Public Safety seeks to respect the community input received to-date and make meaningful and sustainable changes to policing and the criminal justice system to support safety for all members of the community.
This report did not include robust information on response to mental health incidents or crises. Where does that work stand?
The work of responding to mental health crises was not thoroughly included in this report because it is being addressed under another plan to evaluate and implement an alternative response model for crisis intervention and wraparound health and human services delivery.
For more information on the current state of mental health responses in the community and the alternative response plan referenced above, view this public presentation from November, 2021. Additionally, if implemented the Commissioner of Community Safety may determine that mental health expertise is further needed on the teams at the new department.
The report from the working group suggests a model to be used at the City level. The City’s department redesign process is committed to organizational culture-level change, and suggestions made in the report support those goals. As an example of how Reimagining plans will complement one another, alternative responses that are evaluated in the joint plan may impact how the City’s new department will respond or work with partner agencies to respond to a call for service.
Is the City still planning to hire a permanent Police Chief?
Yes. The City of Ithaca intends to begin the process of hiring a permanent Police Chief in the coming months.
This report recommends that under the structure of the Department of Community Safety, the individual titled Police Chief would serve as the Director of Police and report to the Commissioner of Community Safety.
Is Reimagining Public Safety a primary driver of Ithaca Police Department officers leaving their positions?
Some retired or separated officers have reflected that Reimagining Public Safety and/or the increased scrutiny and expectations placed on law enforcement have led them to leave the department.
The City of Ithaca Department of Human Resources cites that there have been a total of seven separations of officers since 2020, and prior to Reimagining Public Safety there were 12 in 2019, one in 2018, and six in 2017.
The City of Ithaca would not categorize the Reimagining Public Safety process as a primary driver of officers leaving their positions and believes that individuals who share the values of community centered policing will be attracted to the new organization.
The City of Ithaca Police Department and Human Resources Department have made a concerted recruiting effort over the past year, resulting in are five new hires who will be joining the Ithaca Police Department over the coming months.
The report recommends that some types of calls for service (i.e. “parking problem”) be responded to by an unarmed community responder rather than an armed police officer. Is an organization able to reassign work from a unionized unit?
There is no statute that includes all types of calls for service included in the report, and therefore it is reasonable for an organization like the City of Ithaca to consider and implement a different response type to various calls for service.
The City of Ithaca will abide by all legal obligations and is in consultation with counsel regarding those obligations.
Does this report analyze the history of policing in our country and how does that inform the suggestions included?
The report includes in its section on training protocols a suggestion that members of the Department of Community Safety receive training on the history of policing and public safety in Ithaca (page 27). The suggestion continues:
By understanding the dynamics of the Ithaca community and the history of policing in Ithaca, responders will be informed on the relationship between public safety systems and various communities, providing context to the present day work of implementing a reimagined public safety system.
Additionally, the Working Group and its technical advisors participated in a two-day orientation, which provided background and context for the history of policing in Ithaca, the reimagining public safety work to-date, and the Working Group’s role in making suggestions for the implementation of the first recommendation of the public safety redesign.
This report does not defund the police or dramatically alter the structure of the Ithaca Police Department. Is the scope of this plan too small, not reflecting a true “reimagining?”
Reimagining Public Safety is more than just this one plan, though this plan represents a redesign of the City’s department and a shifting of responsibilities that would allow IPD to leverage more time and resources to work on investigations, responding to crime, and developing deeper relations with members of the community. This plan also recommends a new command structure, training, and beat designs all meant to positively influence the organization’s culture.
One of the core tenants of Reimagining Public Safety is to reduce disproportionate minority contact with police and the criminal justice system. This tenant does not dictate that there will be no police or an armed unit to combat crime or respond in emergency situations, though it does ask that consideration be given to when armed officers should respond and whether there is a different approach that could better serve non-violent individuals or situations.
Please consider each plan included in Reimagining Public Safety and continue to share input on how best to implement those plans to have a meaningful impact on the community’s health and safety.