ITHACA, N.Y. — An Ithaca police officer, who lives rent-free at the West Village Apartments as part of an initiative to reduce crime in the area, also has access to a live camera feed monitoring outdoor spaces in the complex.

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“Only one of the officers has access to viewing the exterior cameras,” Ithaca Police Chief John Barber said.

Related: Ithaca police officer lives rent-free at West Village Apartments

The surveillance cameras also provide footage to Ithaca Police Headquarters. The officer’s access is different though, because he does not have the ability to playback video. The officer is also not obligated to work during off-hours.

Barber said the purpose of the program — including giving an officer access to surveillance — is to reduce crime at the West Village Apartments and improve the quality of life of people living there.

Crime near the apartments has, at least for the past three years, seen a higher concentration of violent crime than any one area in the city of Ithaca.

Related: How bad is violent crime in West Village compared to the rest of Ithaca?

The live-feed, Barber said, is just another tool meant to keep people safe.

For instance, he said that a person concerned about an incident happening in a parking lot might be too hesitant to call police. But the person might be more willing to call a neighbor — the ‘Officer Next Door’ – and ask him to check out the situation on surveillance cameras. The officer can then decide whether to call police to the scene.

Barber clarified that off-duty police officers are not permitted, per department policy, to intervene in criminal activity unless someone’s immediate safety is at risk.

“I firmly believe that it will be making a difference,” he said. “It’s a different approach to address a problem we’ve been putting a Band-Aid on for years.”

But he said he understands people might have privacy concerns regarding the surveillance video, though he has not heard that from residents.

If Common Council members or residents express concerns about the issue, Barber said the officer’s access to the videos can be disabled.

“That’s an easy compromise. I would have the viewing ability terminated,” he said.

The ‘Officer Next Door’ Program has been a generally welcome initiative that allows police officers to live rent-free in apartments within city-designated areas. Participation in the program from landlords and officers is voluntary.

There are currently at least two officers living at the West Village Apartments.

Those who oppose the program have said it opens the doors for a conflict of interest among officers who will be getting an extra benefit of at least $10,000 a year worth of free rent.

Related: Fair and ethical? A dissenting perspective about Ithaca’s new ‘Officer Next Door’ program

The program has also been criticized because because it was enacted in violation of a city code that prohibits public officials from accepting gifts worth more than $75.

Ithaca police officials have previously said they were not aware the program — which is similar to others already in effect throughout the country — was in violation of city code, and that police worked quickly with city officials to correct the infraction when the issue was brought to their attention.

Modifications to the city code and guidelines about the Officer Next Door Program will be voted on at the Common Council meeting Wednesday night. The agenda can be viewed in its entirety here. 

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Jolene Almendarez

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