Ithaca, N.Y. — An uptick of drug deals in Washington Park. Noisy parties during Orientation Week. A rash of speeding violations at Meadow and Clinton streets.

Some of the problems faced by the Ithaca Police Department call for specific, targeted responses, Police Chief John Barber explained at a City Hall meeting Wednesday night.

To help deal with those issues — and to provide a form of outreach to the public — Chief Barber and Mayor Svante Myrick are backing a two-member police “Community Action Team.”

Myrick wants to fund the initiative under his budget proposal for 2015. He’s backed the idea as a way to improve community-police relations after an Aug. 10 incident involving a police sergeant drew protests.

(Read more about the mayor’s budget here.)

Understanding the Community Action Team

On Wednesday, Barber gave more information about how the team would work.

Sometimes, Barber noted, he gets emails from Common Council members about concerns within parts of their wards.

The Community Action Team officers could be deployed at the chief’s discretion to help tackle certain problems that arise. Barber stressed that this would allow Ithaca police to have a proactive response to crime.

“This would be a team of officers I could deploy,” Chief Barber said. “It would be a team of two officers that would work directly out of the chief’s office.”

“…When they’re not specifically assigned they would be out meeting and greeting the public, whether it would be a business owner, or a property owner, or residents on the street and just having conversations to figuring out what’s going on.”

Council member George McGonigal strove for a metaphor to capture the idea.

“Your description to me sounds like they’re going to be like utility players on a baseball team … which I think is a great idea,” McGonigal said. “Will part of their duties involve walking through troubled neighborhoods?”

Barber said that, yes, that would be part of their responsibility.

“The plan is to be seen unless we’re doing some sort of covert surveillance operation,” Barber said.

Mayor Myrick brought up another sports metaphor.

“I think of this as more like a power-play in hockey,” Myrick said.

He explained that this will allow targeted deployment of officers when the need is highest.

“We can go six to eight in the times and places we need it most,” Myrick said.

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Jeff Stein

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