Editor’s Note: The following column was written by Rocco Lucente, former chair of the Ulysses Republicans.
The column was written in response to a story published in the Ithaca Voice about the City of Ithaca’s refusal to disclose its policy for use of tasers suspects. That story can be read in full here.
Mayor Svante Myrick, City Attorney Ari Lavine and Police Chief John Barber did not respond to Lucente’s arguments prior to publication of this column. Submit a guest column to the Ithaca Voice anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Bus To Nature: Route 22
The year 2014 brought us the eruption of decades of tensions between several police departments across the country and the communities they serve. In 2015, with rising tensions among many groups and the presidential election right around the corner, the issue shows no signs of going away. Due to the proliferation of cell phone cameras in the modern era the ability to capture police misconduct on video is unprecedented, and the flood of videos that has resulted has been shocking. The outcry that followed has lead to a national debate regarding police militarization and the role of force in the policy of law enforcement.
This debate has intensified locally as well, largely due to the string of sit in protests sparked by the incidents in Ferguson and New York City. Ithaca Police Chief John Barber has been proactive in his response to these concerns, holding a series of conversations with the community and supporting the use of body cameras on all Ithaca Police Department officers. Chief Barber has responded to several incidents both nationally and locally with the sort of empathy and professionalism that departments around the state should model themselves after. In an era where certain departments are responding to these concerns with hostility and opposition, Barber should be applauded for his proactive stance. His concern for the relationship between his department and the community has created meaningful strides in bridging any gap which may exist.
All of this only makes the decision of the City of Ithaca and the Ithaca Police Department to not release their policies regarding tasers that much more puzzling. When the incident involving Freddie Gray has created another round of national outcry and protesting, one would think Chief Barber and Mayor Myrick would be more sensitive to this concern and push for further transparency. This stonewalling is seemingly contrary to their record and rhetoric on the issue. When we have created such progress on this issue through transparency and meaningful dialogue, this strikes me as a decision to shut down both on the subject. At the very least, the public is owed an explanation.
The logic which was used by Mayor Myrick to deny this request was that “Revealing the policies would ‘present a significant likelihood’ that criminals could use the officers’ techniques to harm either police or the public”. It brings up the question: How could being transparent regarding which situations are appropriate to use a taser put an officer in harm? Can understanding what an officer’s “line” is enable a criminal to attack them more effectively, and if so, how? Why would releasing this not instead make people more safe? It would create a clear set of expectations for people to follow and a clear set of instructions as to what not to do to our police, which would make our officers more safe. Whenever we can bring clarity to a situation as messy as a police encounter turned hostile we should take the opportunity to do so.
Mayor Myrick should provide an explanation of how disclosing this could harm our officers, I cannot personally fathom how such a thing is possible. If his explanation is convincing, it would be another example of the city being proactive to respond to these issues. If the city fails to respond to this concern, it would be a clear step backwards on the path towards transparency and trust that they have worked so hard to pave. Nobody wants to put our officers in danger, but the burden of proof is on the city to demonstrate that releasing this information would put them in danger. To this point they have failed to do that, and it is a black eye on the otherwise very strong records of these public officials.
— Rocco Lucente is the Tompkins County Coordinator of Campaign for Liberty and a former chairman of the Town of Ulysses Republican Party.