Ithaca, N.Y. — Five of 63 sworn Ithaca police officers live in the city, Common Council member Steve Smith said Wednesday.

Ithaca officials are set to debate a proposed residency requirement tonight that would require new police officers to live within the city limits.

The idea has drawn fierce criticism from the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, which has argued it’s an unfair and unnecessary proposal.

Smith and the mayor have backed the proposal, saying it would bring officers closer to the citizens they assist.

The number of police officers who live within Ithaca had not been previously reported.

Five of 63 amounts to about eight percent of the police force. In other words, 92 percent of Ithaca police officers do not live within the city.

The national publication FiveThirtyEight.com reports that “on average, among the 75 U.S. cities with the largest police forces, 60 percent of police officers reside outside the city limits.”

There are some big cities with similar statistics to Ithaca.

“Just 12 percent of Washington police live in the District — and only 7 percent of officers in Miami live within city limits,” according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

Smith called the residency requirement an opportunity to bring the police and community closer together.

“I think our officers currently do outstanding work,” Smith said. “However, this is an opportunity to build community trust in the department going forward.”

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The proposal emerged in the wake of a controversial incident involving two teens who had a weapon pulled on them by a sergeant. A community outcry over the sergeant’s actions sparked a protest with hundreds demanding change.

Mayor Svante Myrick responded by releasing a slew of proposed reforms — including the residency requirement — for the Ithaca Police Department.

John Joly, the PBA’s president, expressed his disgust in a strongly worded statement attacking many of the mayor’s proposals.

“The PBA strongly opposes and disagrees with the idea of implementing any residency requirement on police officers,” Joly said in the statement.

According to the PBA, Myrick said the officers “would be more invested, and better familiar with the community” with the residency requirement.

Joly took issue with that statement.

“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,” Joly said.

The city has released proposed legislation set to be discussed at City Hall tonight.

Here’s a portion of the language from the proposal, which can be read in full here:

In a memo introducing the legislation, City Attorney Ari Lavine says it is within Ithaca’s ability to mandate the residency requirement.

“Council is empowered by state law to require that new police officers reside in the City as a continuing qualification of employment as a police officer,” Lavine writes.

Lavine says the ordinance would require police officers hired on or after Dec. 1, 2014 to “establish and maintain residence” in Ithaca within a year of joining the force.

“An officer failing to do so would forfeit his or her employment, but would be allowed notice of any proposed finding of failure to maintain such residence, and would have an opportunity to submit evidence establishing that he or she has maintained residence in the City before any action is taken,” Lavine writes.

The city administration meeting to discuss the idea will be held tonight at 6 p.m.


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Jeff Stein

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