Ithaca, N.Y. — Two big things have been going on recently involving the Ithaca Police Department:
1 — An Ithaca police sergeant pulled his weapon on two unarmed teenagers on Aug. 10, sparking outrage among some community members.
2 — Over the last few weeks, the Ithaca Police Department’s SWAT team and the sheriff’s office have been moving toward receiving a $100,000 Homeland Security grant. The grant does not fund new weapons.
Now the question is: Should the first item have any bearing on the second?
At least two members of Ithaca’s Common Council said at a meeting Wednesday night that it’s important to separate the two issues.
“Let’s make a clear distinction between the grant for SWAT equipment versus the incident that happened,” said Alderperson Graham Kerslick.
“I think they are definitely separate concerns. Involving the same department, but separate.”
Opposition to the SWAT grant has gained steam after the incident involving the boys. As of Thursday night, nearly 100 people had signed a petition calling for the Common Council to reject the federal money.
“The items to be purchased are protective gear & training, not weapons,” the petition says. “(But) the act of purchasing them implies that Ithaca is potentially a war zone. THAT LINE OF REASONING HAS TO STOP.”
Some Ithaca officials aren’t buying that argument, however.
One noted at Wednesday’s meeting that a major part of the grant is for a remote-controlled robot that could, for instance, enter a house with a potentially dangerous suspect.
“That is a tool that will reduce the reliance on weapons,” said Donna Fleming, who represents the third ward.
The grant, according to The Ithaca Journal, “would be used for thermal-imaging and night-vision equipment, protective chemical suits, self-contained breathing apparatus, a high-tech torch for cutting through barriers and a $41,000 remote-controlled robot, plus training to go with it all.
Fleming echoed Kerslick’s concerns about conflating the two major IPD issues.
“We’re looking at two distinct and serious problems,” Fleming said. “So please keep that in mind.”