Editor’s Note: Run by Michael Smith, The Ithacast is a weekly podcast featuring interviews with interesting Ithacans. You can stream the full interview below, or subscribe on iTunes.

Visit www.theithacast.com for show notes, downloads, upcoming guests and more!

Learn how Ithaca Hummus makes its magic

[fvplayer src=”https://vimeo.com/118744863″ loop=”true” mobile=”https://vimeo.com/118744863″]

Officer Jamie Williamson – Ithaca Police Spokesperson

Officer Jamie Williamson is a 15-year veteran of law enforcement who has served with the Ithaca police department for over 9 years. He currently acts as the spokesperson for the IPD, essentially the face of the department when dealing with the media (both traditional and social).

In this interview, we talk with Officer Williamson a bit about his history in law enforcement, then we dive into a longer discussion about the concept of community policing and how the IPD implements it. We talk about the upcoming Citizen’s Police Academy program, body cameras for police officers, and a bunch more.

Below are 5 interesting snippets from the interview:

1 – How did Williamson become the spokesperson for IPD?

Willamson explained that the former police chief, Ed Vallely, saw the need for one specific central figure to handle all of IPD’s communications with the media, including social media. “I think I just have such a pretty face that they chose me,” he jokes.

The position was originally an offshoot of the records department and was smaller in scope. When Williamson expressed his interest in the job, he told the chief that he wanted to take in a slightly different direction. When the new Chief, John Barber, took over, he continued to put his trust in Williamson, giving him a great deal of freedom in how to represent the department.

Part of Williamson’s job is creating IPD’s social media presence – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (which Williamson admits he hasn’t fully figure out yet). “When I went through the police academy in 1999, I didn’t even own a computer… Like ‘Why would I want one of these new-fangled computer things, y’know?’” he recalls, “But now, technology drives everything we do.”

2 – What does “community policing” mean to Williamson and the IPD?

Community policing is a popular buzzword in progressive communities like Ithaca, but what does it actually mean to the officers of the IPD? The philosophy under Chief Barber is that the police should be showing that they care about the community with their actions – and that means more than just glad-handing residents.

Williamson says, “It’s not just the concept of community policing where officers get out of their cars and speak to people in the neighborhood. That’s just one aspect of it. It goes so much more in-depth in than that. It includes things like officers going to community meanings on a regular basis to speak with people from all pockets of Ithaca.”

3 – What are the goals of the upcoming Citizen’s Police Academy program?

The Citizen’s Police Academy is a free 8-week program that offers 20 local people from different segments of the community the chance to see the inner workings of the police force. It includes some hands-on, interactive trainings and demonstrations as well as lectures on topics from SWAT training, to the K-9 unit to crime scene investigation.

Williamson explains: “Our community deserves to know just exactly what the police department does and why we do it and when and where we do it… Chief Barber and Mayor Myrick demand excellence from this department and they want the folks in this community to see that excellent police work, and see that the police can and will help them.”

The program seems to draw in people from all walks of life – the current class includes several high school students, members of the local media, a few retirees and even a dentist. The current class is full, but IPD hopes to run this program twice a year, so keep an eye out if you want to join the next class.

4 – What’s the biggest misconception that  people have about police?

Williamson says that he and other officers sometimes get the feeling that citizens don’t think that the police can or even want to help them. While he admits that the police can’t always give a person the result they want, Williamson believes that it’s never for lack of trying.

“Sometimes our hands are tied, whether we haven’t established probable cause to substantiate an arrest, or  things don’t work like you see on CSI… whatever the case, some folks take that as we don’t want to help them out… but I know that all of our officers take pride in what they do and take pride in helping folks out… When we can’t, it does impact us, it affects us.”

5 – Can citizens help make community policing more successful?

Williamson says the best way for people to get involved is simply to interact with officers. “We don’t just want people to like us, it’s not a popularity contest. In that interaction, a police officer is able to place a face with a name and to really befriend somebody. That’s what we need to do. Not bridge the gaps – because I don’t think there are two sides – we need to strengthen those relationships. Our officers have been doing that for a long time, and we’ll continue that hard work.”

Follow The Ithaca Voice on Facebook | Twitter

Jeff Stein

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