ITHACA, N.Y. — Nearly a dozen people spoke out about an Ithaca Police Department recruiting ad that features an officer in full SWAT gear holding a long gun.

The ad appeared on a TCAT bus last month and will be taken down after complaints from residents rolled in, Mayor Svante Myrick said, adding that the ad did not best represent the IPD.

He said while realizes SWAT teams are controversial, the local team is necessary for serious incidents.

“Our own team is called into action rarely,” Myrick said.

TCAT has been notified to remove the ad.

The Ithaca Police Department SWAT team was created after Investigator Michael Padula died in the line of duty in November 1996. He was called to a West State Street home after a woman was reported barricaded inside. She eventually burst out of the home and stabbed Padula in the neck. He and the woman, who was shot by officers, died at the scene.

The SWAT team is currently primarily used during the execution of narcotics and weapons warrants, during stand-offs, during crowd control incidents, and during fugitive or high-risk warrant execution.

Related: Why the Ithaca police SWAT logo includes number 106

But the SWAT team has been a target for activists who say it increases the “militarization” of the IPD.

Multiple people criticized, not just the ad, but a recent $100,000 grant the police department accepted for what one woman called “military-grade equipment.”

The grant was for the purchase of items, such as night vision helmets, breathing apparatus’, radar, cameras, and robot technology.

Related: City unanimously approves $100K grant for Ithaca SWAT team equipment, training

“I totally agree that this poster was probably not the best choice, and it was ripe for misinterpretation,” First Ward Alderman George McGonigal said before adding, ” (But) I don’t apologize for approving a grant that provided police with bulletproof vests. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

He and others said the equipment is primarily used as a protective measure for both officers and the public. Multiple common councilors also said that aside from the poorly chosen advertisement, the IPD has made huge strides in the past few years to increase community policing efforts and stay engaged with the public.

Second Ward Alderman Seph Murtagh said people are “justifiably angry” about the ad, but the IPD has been making progress to improve policing in the community.

He commended the IPD for initiatives, such as the ongoing effort to implement the LEAD program to help drug addicts get into treatment as opposed to getting stuck in the revolving door of the criminal justice system; completing implicit bias training; launching the body cameras program; and hiring more women and people of color, making it one of the most diverse departments in the city.

He also noted increased community outreach efforts, such as the annual community barbecue, the IPD open house and increased foot patrols.

“I think that really should be recognized and commended,” Murtagh said.

But those who oppose the ad say the tone-deafness of them implicate a systemic problem at IPD.

“I knew the poster would be taken down promptly, as it should. However, poster replacement is just a band-aid,” one woman said. 

She said the community deserves a full explanation of why the ad was chosen in the first place, and that those responsible should be reprimanded in writing.  Officers, she said, should also undergo more training and the oath officers take when they are sworn in should be modified to reflect more community oriented principals.

She said she understands that Acting Chief Pete Tyler is new to the job and believes he deserves a second-chance to think about these kinds of public issues.

“We need you to succeed and want to be able to support you. Please do not disappoint us in the future.”

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.