On Aug. 9, an off-duty police officer pulled a gun on four unarmed teenagers, two of whom were black. As a result of the incident and the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Mayor Svante Myrick proposed his Plan for Excellence in Policing on Aug. 25. The proposal calls for the installment of cameras on police cars and officers, and an increase in police staffing. On Aug. 28, the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, Inc. released a response in opposition to parts of Myrick’s plan.
Recent controversy prompts plan for local police reform
On August 10th, 2014 an Ithaca Police officer drew his weapon following a chase with several young black teens. The incident has drawn a great deal of community concern.
I believe, given the current state of affairs in Ferguson, MO, and a long history of violence and mistrust between the police and the black community that concern is understandable.
Over the past several weeks I’ve met repeatedly with parents, teens, religious leaders, members of the Common Council, community leaders, and the leadership of the police department. I’ve also spoken with peers in other communities and reviewed the latest literature on best practices in police departments across the country.
The result of those conversations and investigations is the following plan.
Mayor Svante Myrick’s Plan for Excellence in Policing
1 – Cameras on officers and in cars
2 – City Residency Requirement
3 – Community Action Team
4 – Downtown Outreach Social Worker
5 – Opening a district office on the west end
6 – Full review of all policies and procedures
7 – Ten percent increase in police staffing
8 – Improved community outreach programming
I believe that this plan, once implemented, will greatly enhance the ability of the Ithaca Police Department to deliver high quality, community oriented services.
It will turn an already professional and effective department into a national model for community engagement.
1- Cameras on Officers and in Cars
The City will pursue the necessary funding to purchase and operate a body-worn camera on every officer and dashboard cameras in every car.
Studies have shown that cameras have proven to reduce the use of police force and reduce the number of complaints against police officers. (Goodall 2007; ODS Consulting 2011)
Body cameras have a civilizing effect. Recording each interaction will bring a greater level of accountability to our police-community interactions.
Body cameras have an evidentiary benefit. They can decrease the amount of time our officers spend filling out paperwork and increase the amount of time they spend on the street. They also increase the odds that cases end in guilty pleas.
I’ve asked Chief Barber to work with City Attorney Ari Lavine, HR Director Schelley Michell-Nunn, Alderperson Graham Kerslick, the Deputy Chiefs and others to create a policy that will govern the use and administration of the cameras.
2 – City Residency Requirement
I believe that the time has come for the City to formally explore requiring its police officers live in the City. Officers who live in the community that they serve will be uniquely invested in our community, better familiar with and to the citizens they have chosen to serve and protect, and best able to respond quickly in emergency situations.
I will bring to the Common Council legislation that requires all new hires to establish their primary residence in the City within one year of hire of their hiring.
Alderperson Stephen Smith has agreed to sponsor the legislation that will be introduced at the City Administration Committee.
3 – Community Action Team
Chief John Barber has proposed the creation of a ‘Community Action Team’ (CAT). The CAT would be comprised of two officers working in tandem outside of the typical patrol rotation. These officers would not be assigned a beat or a fixed schedule and would be selected for their ability to implement a community policing model that emphasizes outreach. Their flexibility would allow them to be where they are needed most when they are needed most. If there is a rash of burglaries on the West End, they can supplement our patrols in that area. If there are out of control parties on East and South Hill when students return in the fall, they can supplement our patrols in that area.
The CAT will allow our Department to be more agile and more proactive. I will seek every avenue to fund the CAT and put the team on the street in 2015.
4 – Downtown Outreach Social Worker
For months the City of Ithaca has been studying an outreach model in Burlington, Vermont that has been successful.
In the Burlington model a skilled social worker roams throughout their downtown and interfaces directly with the addicted, unemployed, homeless, and mentally ill. This outreach worker helps the disenfranchised access resources that can improve their quality of life. The outreach worker also reduces the recurrence of ‘frequent flyers’ to IPD, which will help the Department be more proactive in addressing other community concerns.
I’ve asked Alderperson Seph Murtagh to continue working with Chief Barber, Gary Ferguson from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, and other City staff to create a model to be funded in 2015.
5 – Opening a District office on the West End
A welcoming, physical location on the west end of the City will give the community better access to IPD and will allow IPD to immerse themselves even more fully into the life of the City.
The ongoing Lehigh Valley House renovations will include a ground floor ‘District Office’, donated generously by Tim Ciasci. The District Office will open by January 1st, 2015.
6 – Full review of all policies and procedures leading to formal accreditation
The Ithaca Police Department is currently reviewing all policies and procedures. The IPD has always aspired to the highest possible standard in policing. Formal accreditation will ensure that the rules on our books represent the best in the Country. Every officer will then be trained to that standard.
7 – Ten percent increase in police staffing
Last week we swore in three new officers. By the end of this year we aim to hire three more, resulting in a 10 percent increase in the size of our department.
Increased staffing will reduce stress on each officer. It will also better allow for the kind of intensive community outreach that is needed in the City of Ithaca.
8 – Improved Community Outreach programming
On foot patrols, formal programming within schools, immersion in community events. These steps build trust between the community and the Ithaca Police Department. That trust is an invaluable tool. It can lead to more tips to IPD, which will result in more criminals being taken off the street. It also leads to less fear, less violence and less conflict between the Department and the Community at large.
This formal community outreach has been stifled in recent years due to budgetary cutbacks. But the addition of a CAT, a ten percent increase in the size of the department, body cameras which reduce the amount of time spent doing paperwork, the opening of a district office on the west end, and the creation of a downtown outreach social worker will all increase police capacity to do community outreach. Chief Barber has agreed to design and implement a formal community outreach plan that will be rolled out as soon as possible.
Proposed reform too extreme and unrealistic for officers
The members of the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, Inc. (PBA) read with dismay and surprise Mayor Myrick’s recently released “Plan for Excellence in Policing” and is issuing this statement in response.
First and foremost, the Mayor fails to acknowledge that the Police Department currently does an excellent job at providing unparalleled police services to our community. The level of restraint, compassion, training, and professionalism that the officers of the Ithaca Police Department (IPD) demonstrate every single day far exceeds that provided by any surrounding agency. In addition, and as a result of the excellent police services that we provide, the members of our community enjoy an overall safe and secure environment and consistently report positive interactions with our officers.
Ten Percent Increase in Staffing
The officers of IPD have continued to provide this high level of professional service despite being the constant target of personnel reductions and budget cuts. Although the Mayor includes in his proposals a 10% increase in staffing, this is extremely misleading to the public. Since 2011, the size of the police force has decreased by over 13%. In 2010, we had 69 police officers. By the end of 2012, we were down to 60 police officers, due to retirements and resignations. The Mayor and City Council voted to remove the nine positions from the 2013 budget. This decision was made by the Mayor despite pleas from the Chief, PBA, officers, community members and business owners not to cut these positions. As if that wasn’t enough, this past year Mayor Myrick himself cast the deciding vote NOT to re-fund two of those police positions.
Replacing officers that retire is not increasing staffing. Is the Mayor suggesting that he will add six to seven new police positions? Even if that were the case, we would still be below the staffing numbers of just a few years ago, unless the Mayor is going to fill all the vacated positions and add more. The public deserves clarification from the Mayor on this proposal.
Mayor Myrick has been made aware of the potential and inevitable consequences of running a police department that is insufficiently staffed. Mayor Myrick has cut the Police Department to the point that it can only be a reactive department. He has cut to the point of catastrophe. There are numerous officers that are currently or soon to be eligible for retirement. His personnel cuts have left this Department in a position that it could not operate should even half of those officers leave at or near the same time. The process of hiring a police officer begins with either a civil service test or a lateral transfer application. It takes at least one year to hire and have a certified police officer working the street. And that doesn’t take into account the time to hold a civil service test, and receive a certified list of results. Hiring a police officer is a very lengthy and in depth process. The vast majorities of applicants are not qualified and are not able to be hired.
Mayor Myrick’s constant cuts to the Police Department have resulted in the use of overtime as opposed to hiring additional police officers. This may be a common strategy when the Department is nearly fully staffed. However, the rate at which the City has relied upon overtime to compensate for decreased staff is not sustainable. Proactive police functions are currently only possible with the use of overtime. In other words, we at IPD barely have enough officers to simply respond to the calls for service and we have difficulty staffing the Commons and four beats in the City.
Our Special Investigations Unit, which handles drug investigations and enforcement, has been cut down to only two investigators and one is out of work due to an injury that was sustained while performing his duties. That means that IPD has only one investigator assigned to this drug unit. This unit was previously staffed with four investigators.
Our Traffic Unit had been staffed with a Sergeant, two full time officers, and a temporary traffic officer. Currently it is staffed with only one officer. This unit is responsible for traffic enforcement including commercial vehicle enforcement. The intended goal of this unit is to reduce the number of accidents and injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents. This unit also handles speed enforcement in school zones and commercial vehicle inspections. As many are aware there have now been several recent accidents on the east end of the Commons involving commercial vehicles.
The Criminal Investigations Division is currently down one lieutenant. The unit formerly consisted of two rotating temporary investigator positions, which have since been eliminated. We currently have only three criminal investigators and two juvenile investigators.
IPD has a duty to exercise due diligence in attempting to locate persons for which we have active warrants. We are legally required to attempt to locate the subjects and serve our warrants. We have a Warrant Officer position that is currently vacant. The officer in that position was removed from it as a direct result of Mayor Myrick’s staffing cuts. This may create legal problems for prosecutions in the future.
The PBA raises this history because the public deserves an explanation as to what exactly the Mayor’s proposed 10% expansion of the Police Department means.
Cameras on the Officers and in the Cars
The PBA believes that cameras are certainly a topic worth exploring. There may be value in having the officers equipped with cameras. However, the PBA does not understand how cameras would decrease the amount of time officers must spend on paperwork, as stated by the Mayor. The PBA is concerned that if there is not sufficient staff for policing, who would be tasked with reviewing, managing and archiving all of the video. Lastly, mandating officers to wear and activate body cameras and the departmental use of the video, raise issues under the State’s Taylor Law.
City Residency Requirement
The PBA strongly opposes and disagrees with the idea of implementing any residency requirement on police officers. There are several reasons why this would not be in the best interests of the Department or the City.
The Mayor states that he feels that the officers would be more invested, and better familiar with the community, and “best able to respond quickly in emergency situations.” Our officers are currently very much invested in the community that we serve. Our officers are also intimately familiar with the City and the specific problems it faces. The suggestion that officers who live in the City would be any more invested is inaccurate and unsupported and a slap in the face to the members of the PBA. The notion that resident officers would have a quicker response time is also absurd since officers rarely if ever are called to immediately respond from home.
Interestingly enough, the last two incidents where an IPD officer has taken police action while either off duty or in plain clothes have been met with sharp criticism from members of the community and some members of City Council. In fact, Chief Barber implemented a new policy in 2013 that restricts any action that IPD officers are permitted to take when off duty. It essentially restricts the ability of officers to get involved in any enforcement or police activity unless “time is critical and the action will safeguard life, prevent serious injury, or prevent significant property loss.”
The cost of living in the City is much higher than in surrounding areas of this County. Does the Mayor plan to compensate these officers for the increased cost of living?
The PBA does not believe that our employer should determine where we and our families have to live. This is a personal choice that directly affects family life and the officers’ well-being. Police work is very stressful and the mental health of the officers should be a priority for the Mayor. The officers deserve the right to disengage and relax when off duty and at their home. Where they live has no bearing on the level of police services that they provide to the residents.
Lastly, living in the City presents a serious and valid concern of potential retaliation. People call the police when they have exhausted all options and a situation has gotten out of their control. This almost always involves conflict of some level. Officers are charged with quickly assessing and sorting out the problem that has been building up over time. The officers must take action to assist and bring the situation back under control. Given that there are usually two sides to every situation, someone is likely not to be happy with the outcome. If the officers live in the City, they and their family now becomes an easy target for retaliation.
For all of these reasons and others, the PBA strongly opposes this proposed policy. The PBA will vehemently fight it, unless it is part of a mutually agreed upon negotiated contract.
Community Action Team
The PBA likes the idea of more police officers in proactive assignments. This is the type of policing that our Department should be doing. As a matter of fact we would be doing far more proactive enforcement already had the Mayor not cut the finding for nine Police Officers two years ago. The PBA supports the proposed CAT team but reminds the City that the terms governing its work must be in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement or negotiated with the PBA.
Opening a District Office on the West End
This has been discussed and in the works for several years now. We believe that a private business owner has agreed to provide the space. This is a great idea and we have been looking forward to this for some time.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the City and the PBA expired almost three years ago. Many of the Mayor’s proposals will require negotiation with the PBA. This is a great time to sit back down at the table and negotiate a new contract. The PBA is waiting to hear back from the Mayor to see if the City is interested in setting up negotiations.
The PBA is certainly willing to work with the City and we want this Police Department to continue to grow and improve. We take pride in serving this community. We take pride in the level of professionalism that we have attained, and we want to continue with that momentum. We look forward to hearing from Mayor Myrick and incorporating some of his ideas into our next contract.
John Joly, President
Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, Inc.