ITHACA, N.Y.—Former Cornell University Police Department chief Kathy Zoner has been hired by the City of Ithaca as a consultant to help with the introduction of the city’s unarmed responders unit as part of its Reimagining Public Safety plan.

Zoner, the first woman to be chief of the Cornell police department, held the position for a decade before retiring in 2019 after 27 years with Cornell University. Zoner then worked with Margolis Healy, an organizational consultation firm where Zoner managed projects concerning campus safety and security assessments.

Zoner testified before Congress in 2014 regarding ways the federal government could combat sexual assault on college campuses.

Zoner will work with the Ithaca Police Department, the local police union, the Community Justice Center and community leaders to define the work of the unarmed response unit and “implement strategies to build relationships between officers and community organizations,” according to a press release from Mayor Laura Lewis.

Zoner’s hiring comes 30 months after the Reimagining Public Safety plan was first introduced, to much fanfare and criticism. Progress on the plan has been staggered.

Some aspects have been implemented and are operational, like the Community Justice Center, which is a combined effort between the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County. Others were scrapped almost entirely, like the proposed civilian-led Department of Community Safety—an umbrella structure over the Division of Community Solutions, an unarmed response unit, and the Division of Police, a new name for the Ithaca Police Department.

While that reconfiguration has faltered, the unarmed response unit proposal has remained, with support from both Common Council and the Ithaca Police Department.

“A well-trained unarmed response unit is an integral part of the delivery of balanced, fair, and impartial safety services,” Zoner said in the city’s announcement. “I look forward to working with those invested in the successful implementation of this project which will both complement and expand the public safety services already in place.”

From left, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten, Chief Kathy Zoner, Deputy Chief David Honan and Kiwanis President Joshua Adams during a ceremony celebrating Zoner in 2019.

In addition to implementing the unarmed response unit, Zoner will be responsible for designing the deputy city manager for public safety position. The newly created role will serve under the city manager and is expected to oversee the unarmed response unit’s operations, though it is unclear how that position will interact with the city’s police department, whose officers will still be armed.

Lewis said she is “thrilled” that Zoner has joined the effort.

“Her expertise coupled with her local network will allow for us to design a new model of public safety for our whole community,” Lewis said.

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at