This story was written by Ithaca Voice intern Anna Lamb.
ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca Police will be getting new equipment and overtime pay for training because of a $100,000 grant approved by Ithaca’s Common Council Wednesday night.
The grant from the Department of Homeland Security is intended for new equipment, including night vision helmets, breathing apparatus’, radar, cameras, and robot technology. Ithaca Police will be required to provide documentation of their use of the funds to the government in order to remain eligible.
A similar grant was approved in 2014, and was greeted with public disapproval as about 250 protesters surrounded City Hall. Claims of police militarization and racial prejudice were among the rationales.
This resolution was met with nearly no public backlash. Local activist Mary Anne Grady Flores raised her concern that the community was not well enough aware of plans to receive another grant, and about the impact taking the money could have on Ithaca’s sanctuary city status.
“There might be concern that accepting this grant might jeopardize the city of Ithaca’s status as a sanctuary community (and possibly) if we accept this funding we may then have to report in some way to the federal government in ways that makes us uncomfortable,” Mayor Svante Myrick said.
Lt. Jacob Young, who spoke on behalf of the IPD, said the department reports quarterly to Homeland Security about how the money is being spent and the quality of the equipment purchased. Anything outside of that scope, he said, would be unusual.
“That would be an automatic red flag. It would certainly be sent to the city’s attorney…” Young said about a potential request outside of the scope of the grant’s focus.
Attorney Ari Lavine said that in response to the possibility that the federal government would instill new and previously unmentioned requirements for accepting the grant, the city is requiring that IPD get attorney approval before releasing information that could “register” people IPD comes into contact with, in accordance with the city’s sanctuary status.
Alderman Cynthia Brock, 1st ward, spoke to the issue of transparency–asking for more open lines of communication between IPD and the city in the future. In particular her focus was the fact that the Ithaca Police Department does not seek approval when applying for funding or grant programs while other city entities always get approval beforehand.
“I would like to see more consistency, and in that process more transparency,” she said. “If equipment and training is essential in order to make sure that our officers are safe, make sure that we have the appropriate equipment to respond to a whole variety of situations, I hope that we could make sure that we find those regardless of the federal funding available.”
And because this grant is the third of it’s kind, George McGonigal, 1st Ward, asked whether the money has actually fulfilled its intended purpose.
Lt. Young said that from what he has experienced, equipment from the grant has been allocated properly. He feels that any instance of abuse would not go unnoticed.
A variety of training ranging from IED explosive awareness and active shooter response allotted for under the grant, was used as appropriate for the department and he doesn’t foresee any unnecessary increase in participation.
Lt. Young also spoke to the use of the tactical robot – the first of it’s kind to be used by the city’s police department – and how training has increased the department’s use about how to use the machine to help during operations.
Young said the machine originally had issues due to user error, possibly citing its ineffectiveness during the Danby standoff. But it has since been used in the December apprehension of Justin Barkley, who is accused of killing a man in the parking lot of the Ithaca Wal-Mart.
Barkley fired at police officers when they attempted to take him into custody at his home. He was apprehended without further incident after a nearly eight-hour standoff with police, who successfully used the robot during negotiations.
The council decided on the grounds of keeping the police safe, that the money is a necessity for the city. Alderman George McGonigal summed up the council’s decision before ending the discussion for a vote.
“We have a lot of needs. We can’t afford all of them. If we can get a grant to pay for some–we can pay for others. I support this,” he said.