A sergeant investigating a reported arson, shown above, pulled his weapon on 4 teenagers Saturday night. The police timeline and records give different accounts of the incident. (Reader photo)

Ithaca, N.Y. — If police officers were required to live in Ithaca, the unarmed teens who had a gun pulled on them earlier this month might have been treated differently.

That’s the idea behind a proposed residency requirement for the department, which would require officers to live in Ithaca within their first year of being hired, said Alderperson Steve Smith.

The two boys are “very active” members of the community and have “great reputations,” Smith said.

“An officer who lives here would have known,” said Smith, who is working with city attorney Aaron Lavine to develop the proposal.


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Such a residency requirement has been floated for years, even before this month’s controversy. It’s intended to align officers more closely with the day-to-day life of the community and put officers “closer to home, literally and figuratively, when this is the community where they live,” Smith said.

Steve Smith

The proposal was announced by Mayor Svante Myrick on Monday as part of a slew of suggested reforms to the police department.

Though the idea is in its early stages of development, it’s likely that current officers wouldn’t be affected by the change, Smith said.

Some people have criticized the plan as an expensive burden to officers, according to Smith. Police did not immediately return a request for comment on the proposal Tuesday, and The Voice was unable to reach the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association.

Asked if the policy could hurt the department’s ability to recruit officers, Smith said that “police officers are some of the best-paid city employees we have.” Starting pay for officers in 2011 was about $45,000, and increased to about $70,000 after three years, according to the city’s website.

Related: Ithaca police review says sgt. was justified, not racially biased in pulling gun

Related: Mayor Myrick proposes 7 major reforms for Ithaca Police Department

Residency requirements for police officers have become a new topic of debate in other cities across the country following the high-profile shooting of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. August 9.

Though enforcement of such policies vary, New York City, Boston and Philadelphia are some of the cities that require residency in the city — though New York City’s policy allows officers to live in neighboring counties, and the Boston Globe reported the requirement is rarely enforced in Boston.

That was the case in Ithaca in the early 2000s, Smith said. The city had a similar requirement but allowed officers to apply for an exception — one which was never denied.

This time around, enforcement will be key, Smith said.


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