TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — A study is underway to reimagine Tompkins County law enforcement and find ways to share services and be more efficient.

Since January, the Center for Governmental Research has been examining the Ithaca Police Department, Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and several village departments. This week, CGR is presenting updates, findings and options to the public and hearing feedback.

The final report will help local officials make future decisions about law enforcement in Tompkins County. Though local law enforcement agencies do already collaborate, some further options include contracting services between departments, co-location and even the larger leap of creating a single police agency for Tompkins County.

CGR has been examining the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, the Ithaca Police Department, and the police departments in the Villages of Cayuga Heights, Dryden and Groton. Researchers have interviewed officer, key stakeholders and surveyed members of the public.

Paul Bishop, associate principal of CGR who presented initial findings and options Monday at the Tompkins County Public Library, said there are already examples of “very good” cooperation among local law enforcement agencies.

Paul Bishop, associate principal at CGR, presents a baseline report and options from a law enforcement study Aug. 28. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Paul Bishop, associate principal at CGR, presents a baseline report and options from a law enforcement study Aug. 28. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

“I’ve worked with so many communities where the police chiefs in neighboring counties don’t talk to each other,” Bishop said. “This community is very different. People work together and they have for several decades.”

Bishop said examples of collaboration include mutual aid, a unified dispatch center, a common records management system, SWAT team, regular meetings of agency leaders and shared training.

CGR is the same firm that recently finished a report on the Tompkins County jail and criminal justice system.

Related: Re-imagining local policing in Tompkins: 3 public meetings planned seeking feedback

CGR, partnered with Highland Planning, has examined how several agencies in the county function. They have been looking at figures for number of officers, costs and call volume to see if there would be a benefit in some places to share services, consolidate and possibly create a central police agency.

At the five agencies CGR has examined, spending totaled $18.3 million in 2017. In a baseline report, CGR said the overall cost of law enforcement in Tompkins County has increased about 8 percent over the past four years. The demand for services has also increased over the past 10 years, according to the report. The Ithaca Police Department is the busiest agency and responded to nearly 18,000 dispatched calls for service in 2016. The next-busiest agency is the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office.

Researchers surveyed 979 people with a (non-scientifically designed) Survey Monkey poll about local law enforcement services. The survey found that 60 percent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the level of law enforcement. In Cayuga Heights, 76 percent of residents were very satisfied, while there were higher percentages of “neutral” responses in Ithaca, Dryden and the county outside the city and villages, the report said.

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During the meeting, the presenters set up a live poll where people could text answers to questions. When asked “In general, what changes to policing do you feel are necessary?” attendees said they want to see more officers, more sensitivity training, more foot and bike patrols, less use of weapons and less militarization.

What spurred the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County to take a look at local law enforcement was funding from the New York State Department of State’s “Municipal Restructuring Fund Program.”

Bishop also discussed some options for local law enforcement to consolidate and share services to improve efficiency. Some of the ways to expand on collaboration include training, fleet maintenance and group purchasing, criminal investigations by coordinating specializations — if an officer has a specialty in a particular area they could help other departments, unified policy and procedure and co-location.

Bishop said the Ithaca Police Department is actively evaluating space needs and the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office may consider relocating.

Contracting for services between departments is another option, Bishop said. For example, Bishop said, the Cayuga Heights Police Department could consider contracting for services from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office.

Another option is for Tompkins County to create a single police agency or merge agencies outside the City of Ithaca. The presentation did not offer many specifics on how a single police agency would operate at this stage of the report.

The baseline report released in July is the “first milestone” in the project, the report states. Based on the findings, CGR said it will work with the project steering committee to identify ways to improve local law enforcement and hear feedback from the community and stakeholders and put together a final report. CGR plans to conclude everything by the end of September.

Monday’s presentation will be available on CGR’s project website Tuesday.

There are two meetings left this week for the public to attend.

Wednesday

6 p.m. – 8 p.m. in Room 163 at Tompkins Cortland Community College located at 170 North Street in Dryden

Thursday

6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the BOCES Smith School Gymnasium located at 555 Warren Road in Ithaca

Read the report and documents at CGR’s project website at www.cgr.org/TompkinsLESS.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.