Editor’s Note: This is an editorial by The Ithaca Voice. We encourage dissenting opinions and will publish the views of those who disagree with this piece.
Ithaca, N.Y. — Svante Myrick is not messing around.
The mayor announced a slew of proposed police reforms on Monday that — on balance — have the potential to make a meaningful difference in the everyday lives of some of Ithaca’s most disadvantaged citizens.
We have many questions about the proposals. But, at this early stage, with what we have been told, the mayor’s initiatives appear to represent a meaningful leap forward for improving Ithaca’s sometimes volatile community-police relations.
The desired reduction in tension wouldn’t just benefit the victims of police overreach. If passed, it’ll benefit the police themselves, too.
Some background: On Aug. 10, Sgt. John Norman pulled his weapon on two unarmed minority teenagers in Ithaca’s south-side after a chase related to two arsons and a burglary.
Two investigations were launched into the incident, with the results of one — an internal police review — being released on Monday. That review found the decision to produce the gun was essentially justified.
Meanwhile, in an exclusive Ithaca Voice interview, the teens’ parents denounced the sergeant’s decision and said that the show of force was excessive and unnecessary. At a protest on Friday, dozens of protesters took turns furiously criticizing the Ithaca Police Department and leveling racial bias charges against it.
It’s not hard to imagine how some mayors would have handled such high drama: with a waffling press release, uncertain allusions to future fixes, and an abundance of platitudes.
Instead, Myrick issued a statement Monday calling for seven concrete reforms, the majority of which have real teeth. The most significant — and potentially controversial — of these was a proposed residency requirement for police officers.
The details of such a dramatic revision of city policy are, for now, left to the imagination. But one can see a barrage of reasonable objections from police: What about officers who have long lived outside the city? Can all police officers afford to live in such an expensive city?
In general, though, the idea is an excellent one. It should do much to reverse an “us-versus-them” mentality to city policing that erupted most clearly into public view during the Officer Chris Miller litigation. As the mayor notes, it should also give police a greater stake in and connection to their community — and reduce the likelihood of the incident that recently generated so much controversy.
Also potentially controversial is the mayor’s suggestion that cameras be placed on all police officers. While we’d like to learn more about how this would work, it also seems like a bold and effective solution.
This strategy has garnered national media attention. A California city saw an 89 percent drop in complaints against officers during a yearlong trial when officers were made to wear cameras, according to a recent story by the Associated Press. It seems prudent to adopt such methods here.
For all that praise, however, we have at least one major concern with the mayor’s proposals. It stems from a section in his statement where he notes that he is seeking to grow the police department by 10 percent.
This sounds terrific in principle. But it neglects to mention that the mayor himself was responsible for slashing nine officers from the force. We think it is misleading, at best, for Myrick to now take credit for growing a department he himself downsized.
But this objection is easily overcome if the mayor can simply be more precise and fair with his wording in the days ahead.
Much more important is the commendable substance of the reforms. As mayors across the country struggle mightily with deeply divisive disagreements over police relations, they’d do well to look at Ithaca. Because our young mayor just may be onto something.