The mayor with Chief John Barber.

Ithaca, N.Y. — Both of these statements about the Ithaca Police Department are true:

1 — The number of Ithaca police officers has fallen by 13 percent in a few years, leading IPD to say on Thursday that it has been “cut to the point of catastrophe.”

2 — The IPD is receiving more funding in 2014 than at any point in its history. It’s expected to set a new record high again next year.

The apparent paradox here has been at the root of arguments over Ithaca’s cops for several years.

But now there’s a new urgency. A controversial incident on Aug. 10 involving two unarmed teens prompted a community outcry. Mayor Svante Myrick then proposed seven major reforms for the police department.

Police are pushing back hard. They’ve fused their their contempt for many of Myrick’s proposed fixes with their fury over the manpower shortages.

The result was a fiery statement from Officer John Joly, president of the Police Benevolent Association, that said some of the mayor’s reasoning amounted to a “slap in the face” of the IPD.

Events are accelerating. Dozens of people are planning to attend a Sept. 3 protest at City Hall to decry police overreach. Then Myrick and Common Council have to figure out IPD’s budget. Along the way, the mayor expects to also pass the tough reforms.

The mayor with Chief John Barber. (Courtesy of IPD’s Facebook page)
The mayor with Chief John Barber. (Courtesy of IPD’s Facebook page)

So: Who should you believe? How does this affect the average Ithacan? What are the facts?

Let The Ithaca Voice help you sort this out.

Click on your question to find your answer, or read the story in order.

Did we miss your question? Email us at

1 – How can we be paying more for IPD to be understaffed?
2 – So the police budget is growing. Is that because the city is spending more on all of its services?
3 – Does that mean police are wrong to complain about budget cuts?
4 – Which of the mayor’s reforms do police appear to hate the most, and why?
5 – Then why does the mayor believe in the residency requirement?
6 – So just how much are Ithaca police officers paid?
7 – Why don’t they just get paid less and hire more officers?
8 – Why are police costs going up so much?
9 – Where do negotiations stand now?
10 – The PBA says the mayor hasn’t praised Ithaca police. Is that really true?

1 – How can we be paying more for IPD to be understaffed?

The answer lies in the costs per officer. Ithaca police have grown more expensive for the city individually even as there are fewer of them.

So, yes, it is true that a reduction in the number of officers from 69 to 60 amounts to a 13 percent reduction in police staff. But because police costs are mounting so rapidly — see question 8 for why — it’s also true that the city is spending more and more on the force every year.

2 – So the police budget is growing. Is that because the city is spending more on all of its services?

No. Amid falling state revenues, the city has been forced to cut back on things like Public Works Administration, Human Resources, and something called “Total Utility Patching,” according to its budget.

Even of the departments that have seen their budgets increase, the Ithaca police budget appears to be growing at a much faster clip. The Ithaca Fire Department, for instance, has also increased its budget but not at as rapid of a pace.

In 2010, the IPD budget was $10.5 million. In 2014, it rose to $11.7 million.

That is not the conclusion one would draw from the PBA statement saying the mayor had cut “to the point of catastrophe.”

The IPD, it says, has been “the constant target of personnel reductions and budget cuts.”

3 – Does that mean police are necessarily wrong to complain about budget cuts?

Not exactly. In an email to The Voice from several weeks ago, Officer Jamie Williamson listed the following positions as being either eliminated or unfilled: the Criminal Investigations Unit, the Special Investigations Unit, the Fleet Manager position, the Warrant Officer position, the Traffic Division, the Commons Unit and the Patrol Division.

Myrick said that the number of cops on the street is comparable to the number in previous years.

He said the cuts have been surgical and successful at reducing administrative waste while promoting real police work.

“It’s complicated when police say there’s not enough officers,” he said.

He said the Commons Unit is still active, that there’s no reason to have a warrant officer since every officer can issue a warrant, that fixing police vehicles has been transferred to the DPW (which already does that work) and that two “records positions” have been unfilled.

“The thrust has been to eliminate ancillary positions but keep officers on patrol,” Myrick said.

He added that with three new officers recently sworn in and three more on the way the police department will soon be back at 66 officers — only three fewer, or about four percent less, than when he started.

4 – Which of the mayor’s reforms do police appear to hate the most, and why?

The PBA statement about the mayor’s reforms directed its strongest ire to the proposed requirement that new cops live within the city limits.

Joly gave at least three reasons police oppose the controversial residency requirement:

A) Ithaca police say that where they live is a personal choice with no bearing on their police performance.

From the statement: “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.”

B) Police say there is a fear of retaliation from the conflicts that they have to step into in their work as police officers.

“If the officers live in the city, they and their family now become an easy target for retaliation,” the statement said.

C) The cost of living in the city is higher, police say, so it’d be unfair to force cops to live in an expensive city.

The statement says: “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?”

5 – Then why does the mayor believe in the residency requirement?

In an interview with The Voice, the mayor held his ground on the residency requirement.

“I am disappointed that the PBA thinks living in the city is such an onerous requirement for new officers,” he said.

“And I think that the 30,000 city residents who live here and pay all our salaries would be similarly disappointed.”

Myrick has said that he thinks a residency requirement could bring police closer to the city they patrol.

In its statement, the PBA took offense at the implication. This is where the “slap in the face” statement came in. The PBA said it was insulting to say that the requirement would give them a tighter connection to Ithaca.

Myrick responded that the outcry over the incident involving the teens proves that the police have more work to do, however.

“I think the connection you build with your neighbors will be a unique asset for the members of our police department,” he said.

“Even though the police department does an excellent job day in and day out, there still exists a trust deficit — and that’s clear in the outcry of emotion we’ve seen following the incident on Aug. 10.”

6 – So just how much are Ithaca police officers paid?

The Ithaca police PBA say they should be compensated more if they are forced to live in the city.

In their very first year on the beat, cops make $45,000. The median income in Ithaca, by comparison, is $29,000.

And that, according to the mayor, is just base pay — overtime takes it much higher. Joly, the officer who sent out the press release, makes at least right around the $100,000 mark annually, according to public records. The mayor made $53,356.

At least 12 Ithaca police officers were paid over $100,000 in 2013. The average cop gets paid $70,000 annually in base pay.

7 – Why don’t they just get paid less and hire more officers?

This is exactly the point Mayor Myrick made, at least implied, in an interview with The Voice.

“If they were willing to work with us on ways to lower their costs, then the city would be able to add more officers,” Myrick said.

The PBA has not responded to several requests for comment from The Voice.

8 – Why are police costs going up so much?

The mayor blames soaring police costs primarily on the department’s intransigence. The PBA, again, has not responded to requests for interviews with The Voice.

A major part of that issue, according to the mayor, is growing healthcare costs.

Every one of the city’s several unions, except for the police union, has agreed to have staff pay 20 percent of its healthcare costs.

Not so for police.

“The IPD pays 1.5 percent of their base salary to their health care costs,” Myrick said.

“If you’re an average officer, you’re paying $1,000 a year for family coverage in what Obamacare calls the ‘Cadillac Plan.’”

“As health care costs have gone up and up and up the contract has gotten more generous, which is why we think they’ve been loath to renegotiate.”

Myrick also said growing pension costs and overtime fees are also part of the problem.

9 – Where do negotiations stand now?

The mayor says that there has been an outstanding offer on the table for negotiations with the PBA for several years, but that the PBA hasn’t taken up the offer.

The PBA provides a different timeline in its statement.

“This is a great time to sit back down at the table and negotiate a new contract,” the statement says. “The PBA is waiting to hear back from the Mayor to see if the City is interested in setting up negotiations.”

10 – The PBA says the mayor hasn’t praised the Ithaca police. Is that really true?

Here’s what the PBA’s statement says: “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.”

This doesn’t appear to be true. In repeated statements, interviews with The Voice, on the radio and with TV stations, Mayor Myrick has begun most discussions of the Ithaca police by praising the work it does.

In a statement on Aug. 15, for instance, he said: “The Ithaca Police Department routinely provides excellent and equitable service to the entire community.”

Full Voice coverage about the police-teens incident & fall-out:

Follow The Ithaca Voice on Facebook | Twitter

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.