ITHACA, N.Y.—Local law enforcement has been awarded a grant of $337,395 from New York State aimed at reducing gun violence in the area through hot-spot policing and community engagement efforts, among other smaller spending.
The grant comes from the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) through the Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) initiative. GIVE grants provide “state funding to local law enforcement agencies for equipment, overtime, personnel, as well as focused training and technical assistance,” according to the DCJS’ website.
The county’s Public Safety Committee voted to accept the grant on July 20 and the Tompkins County Legislature followed suit on Aug. 1. The grant supports work from July 1, 2023 until June 30, 2024.
The state’s DCJS had identified the Tompkins County area as a target for gun violence elimination spending, according to a press release from Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne.
The award was initially meant for the Ithaca Police Department (IPD), but according to Osborne in the release, they were unable to accept the grant due to the department’s staffing issues. Despite that, Osborne said in his announcement that the funds would be used by his office to help IPD.
“We were fortunate to receive this opportunity to support the Ithaca Police Department and our city residents,” Osborne said in the release. “Working together on this important issue will hopefully go a long way in making our community safer for everyone.”
IPD leadership did not respond to a request for comment on the GIVE grant.
The grant award notice shows that of the $337,395, the vast majority — $323,723, or about 96% — will go towards hot-spot policing tactics, otherwise known as strategies aimed at particular locations that generate an especially high rate of crime reports, particularly violent crimes, relative to others.
It is unclear what geographic locations will be prioritized as part of the hot-spot policing, but the tactics that are supposed to be employed by TCSO are listed in the grant award. They include the purchase of equipment for gunshot audio detection, license plate recognition and camera equipment, which amounts to $162,750.
The remaining hot-spot policing money is allocated for overtime for “hot-spot task force activities” — $32,195 for sergeant and investigator time, $96,583 for deputy sheriff time.
Other expenses include $5,500 for youth engagement and violence prevention and $5,000 for overtime for corrections officers, which will be used on “jail intelligence gathering/inmate phone call reviews.”
The Ithaca Police Department’s Community Dashboard shows the type of calls from certain locations as well as the frequency with which they report to some specific places—which could indicate potential hot-spot policing locations.
While IPD’s headquarters on Clinton Street is the top response location, the top seven other locations are the Ithaca Commons, affordable housing developments West Village and Arthaus, the Ithaca Walmart, Wegmans, the 7-Eleven on Green Street and the homeless shelter on West State Street. Most of these calls stem from thefts, disputes, welfare checks or property complaints.
Osborne stressed in his presentation to the Public Safety Committee that although the emphasis of the GIVE grant is on hot-spots, it prohibits using the funding for potentially racially discriminatory tactics such as broken-windows policing or stop-and-frisk methods. Instead, the GIVE grant recommends that law enforcement officers spend brief periods of time in the communities and interacting with residents.
GIVE is eligible to be used on either hot-spot policing, focused deterrence, street outreach or crime prevention through environmental design, as stated in Osborne’s announcement. It focuses on community outreach, prioritization of repeat offenders and hot-spots and collaboration between departments.
Once IPD was unable to take advantage of the grant, Osborne told the committee he pursued it because of rising violent crime from 2019-2021, both with and without firearms. Violent crime is officially classified as murder, rape, robbery and assault by DCJS.
Below is a chart from the 2022 TCSO annual report showing trends over the last several years of those offenses.
Tompkins County District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said his office had helped with the grant effort, and that he supported the grant’s intentions.
“Anything we can do to reduce the number of gun-related incidents is valuable to our community,” Van Houten wrote in an email.
“I am especially pleased that the principles of the GIVE program emphasize procedural justice,” Van Houten said in the release. “Procedural justice is based upon being fair and transparent, providing the people an opportunity to have a voice in policing, and being impartial in decision-making.”
Jonathan Mong is a reporter from The Cornell Daily Sun working on The Sun’s summer fellowship at The Ithaca Voice.