ITHACA, N.Y. — Around 8:30 a.m. Saturday, seven Ithaca police officers were on top of Center Ithaca in the Commons getting gear ready to do their annual rappel down the building dressed as Santa or one of his elves at noon.

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“Well, the biggest joke on it is whoever has the biggest belly,” Lt. Jake Young said about who gets to be Santa. He’s the SWAT team commander for IPD.

He’s been to all the rappels for the past five years, spending about 2.5 hours setting up with officers the morning of the event to ensure it’s a success.

He said the turnout this year was bigger than it has been in a while because of the warm, dry weather.

Young said, “That’s probably the biggest crowd in the past three years.”

Sgt. Derek Necheporek, a rappel master with the Ithaca Police Department’s SWAT team, said “We’ve done it when it’s been ice cold — snow on the roof up here.”

He said guys volunteer from the SWAT team have been dressing as elves or Santa for the event for at least the last 12 years.

This year’s Santa is Officer Rich Niemi, who’s also a rappel master. He was selected as Santa because of his experience rappelling. His elves are Young, Lt. Scott Garin, Sgt. Rob Brotherton, Sgt. John Joly and Officer Dave Amaro.  Necheporek was in charge of safety on the roof.

Check out these 31 photos of their rappel by Jolene Almendarez.

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.