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ITHACA, N.Y.—The first meeting of the Reimagining Public Safety Special Committee convened Wednesday night, revealing some of the ways that the rather hastily assembled group will attempt to advance and improve the Reimagining Public Safety process as it continues.
The idea for the committee, made up of five Common Council members, was spawned over the last few months as the city’s portion of the Reimagining plan has simultaneously come under increased scrutiny and maintained slow progress through the city levels of government.
Alderperson George McGonigal was selected unanimously to lead the committee. Considering the work requirements that he and the others on the committee have due to their positions as Common Council members, it was decided that the group should meet once every month, though McGonigal noted that those meetings are going to have to be “full throttle”—a report is expected by the December Common Council meeting, giving the committee time for just four meetings total. The meetings will take place on the second Wednesdays of each month.
Alderpersons Phoebe Brown, Robert Cantelmo, Ducson Nguyen and Cynthia Brock were all also included in the committee, with Acting Mayor Laura Lewis in attendance but not voting. Mar’Quon Frederick, a Cornell student who was also involved in the Reimagining Public Safety Working Group, has also been invited to attend and participate but not vote.
Lewis said her hope is that the committee will be a “short-term assignment,” theoretically dissolving or transitioning after the report is submitted.
“You’ll be determining some of the next steps, and determining where you will want to ask for more information,” Lewis said. While the primary focus will be on the recommendations for just the City of Ithaca’s reforms, they also have the latitude to examine recommendations for joint reforms involving the city and Tompkins County.
McGonigal mentioned involving District Attorney Matt Van Houten, who has lamented the lack of involvement his office had in the Reimagining formulation, as well as talking to people involved in the unarmed response units being implemented in Rochester. Brown added that while she doesn’t want to rehash the process itself, civilian input would be valuable to ensure their concerns are kept in mind, and Brock stated that the Community Police Board should be brought into the fold as well.
It’s also clear the committee intends to revisit the delineation of incident calls that would be assigned to police officers and which would be assigned to unarmed Community Solutions Workers.
Earlier this summer the Ithaca Police Department compiled and published their own live dashboard, trying to show the types of calls, number of calls, and frequent locations where incidents happen. The committee received a walk-through of the dashboard from IPD’s Sgt. Mary Orsaio.
Some of the potential weaknesses of the dashboard were discussed. Brock and Cantelmo mentioned that the calls can only be categorized under one offense or crime, even though several may apply (for instance, a call could result in charges for burglary and weapons possession, but it would be up to whatever officer responds to the incident to categorize it under one of those offenses, not both).
“It would be great if the data was 100 percent, but it gives us something to look at, something to make improvements off of,” Orsaio said. “But I hear you, if we had a data analyst it would probably be completely cleaned up, a lot of this is based off of officer responses.”
McGonigal noted that the dashboard doesn’t present data on traffic stop demographics—more specifically, the race and ethnicity of people being stopped, one of the explicit goals of the Reimagining plan’s vision for data collection to measure inequities in police scrutiny. Orsaio acknowledged that, saying she wasn’t sure how an officer would be able to gather that information since it isn’t part of a standard traffic stop and race isn’t listed on driver’s licenses. The total number of traffic stops are listed, though.
To end the meeting, there was a brief discussion of the more immediate goals of the committee.
McGonigal listed his priorities as hearing from the District Attorney, assembling a citizen feedback group and speaking to those on the ground in Rochester to hear their experiences. Brock also mentioned that Heather Campbel, of the Tompkins County Advocacy Center, wanted to be included to express the perspectives of domestic violence survivors, particularly regarding initial interactions with law enforcement once a crime is reported.
Brown also emphasized that community members need to be heard prominently throughout, saying that she could help gather up those interested to speak at the next meeting.