Ithaca, N.Y. — Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized federal anti-terrorism funding given to Ithaca police to purchase SWAT gear in a statement published on Wednesday.

Citing the “Wastebook” released by Sen. Tom Coburn (R – Oka.), McCain noted that the federal grant went to Ithaca despite its status as one of America’s safest cities.

Coburn’s “Wastebook” details what he considers excessive or unnecessary federal funding for various initiatives. It lists the SWAT funding received by Ithaca police through the Department of Homeland Security as fifth on its list, which included 100 different examples of misused federal funding.

McCain posted on Twitter that Ithaca received a $200,000 grant for federal SWAT gear. (That appears to be a mistake — Ithaca received $100,000 in federal funding. The $200,000 figure appears to come from Coburn’s Wastebook, which refers to two $100,000 grants — one to Ithaca and another to the Twin Cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawand.)

As noted by McCain, the Wastebook highlights that Ithaca received the grant despite its status as a “secure” small town.

“Ithaca in particular was recently distinguished as the number one ‘most secure’ small town in America by Farmers Insurance Group of Companies. Among other factors, the study looked at ‘crime statistics, extreme weather, risk of natural disasters, housing depreciation, foreclosures, air quality … [and] terrorist threats,’” the Wastebook says.

Ithaca decided to accept the federal funding for the grant in September.

At the time, Chief John Barber emphasized that the grant money will be used to purchase tools that will help keep officers and the public safe. The grant funded a remote-controlled robot and gear for seeing in the dark.

“This is grant specific money for tactical operations,” Barber said at a Common Council meeting in September. “Our tactical team has been in operation for 16 years. It was formed after investigator Michael Pedula was murdered in the line of duty. […] We’ve had 172 call outs since its inception and every one of them has ended without loss of life to either a police officer or a suspect.”

Ithaca’s Common Council voted to accept the grant funding by an 8-1 margin.

“That is a tool that will reduce the reliance on weapons,” said Donna Fleming, who represents the third ward, at the time.

Council member Cynthia Brock opposed the decision, saying, “When we direct our staff towards anti-terrorism tactics and bomb prevention we reinforce in our staff that our attention should be focused on looking at our community as a threat.”

Among the government appropriations that appeared lower on the list than the SWAT funding for IThaca were:

#8 — “Scientists Hope Gambling Monkeys Unlock Secrets of Free Will”

#12 — An NIH grant to study if mothers love their dogs as much as their children.

#16 — Chronicling the “radical hippie movement” in the 1970s.

Jeff Stein

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