ITHACA, N.Y – Christine Barksdale’s list of contributions to the Ithaca community is long and varied. As a senior investigator with the Ithaca Police Department, volunteer, and entrepreneur,  Barksdale has worked to address some of the community’s toughest issues, from sexual abuse to human trafficking.

Barksdale received the J. Diann Sams African American History Month Recognition Award from Ithaca Common Council on Wednesday in recognition of her service to the community. The J. Diann Sams award is given annually to honor the legacy of the three-term alderwoman who “was an advocate for the underrepresented and underserved,” according to a statement from the award committee.

Barksdale began her career in law enforcement with the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office in 1995, and she was the first black woman hired as a corrections officer. She soon joined IPD as the department’s first, and only, black woman police officer. Already a pathbreaker, she continued to climb the ranks, becoming the first woman promoted to senior investigator within the Ithaca Police Department.

Christine Barksdale, center, speaks during the Citizens Police Academy in 2015. (File photo from IPD)

In addition to praising Barksdale’s role as a pioneer in local law enforcement, the city resolution honoring her says she “has used her career in law enforcement to build bridges with the community.”

She started a citizens police academy to educate community members about police work, participated in community policing initiatives, advised youth in the Police Explorers unit, and facilitated dialogues between teens and officers.

Related: Do community events, such as the Ithaca police community BBQ, actually make a difference?

Barksdale’s time at IPD has been shaped by a commitment to ending child abuse, sexual abuse and human trafficking as a juvenile and sex crimes investigator, her nominators said. She has worked with the Enough Abuse Campaign to end child sexual abuse and has trained law enforcement personnel from other departments about human trafficking prevention and enforcement. She has worked to support community members and fellow officers as a critical incident negotiator and by establishing a peer support team within IPD.

Beyond IPD, Barksdale has lent time and expertise to organizations throughout Ithaca, including the Human Services Coalition, the Community Foundation, the Advocacy Center, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Southside Community Center, and she currently serves as president of the board at Loaves & Fishes. She has approached social issues with an entrepreneurial spirit, too, as the former proprietor of the Diaspora Gallery and Sustainable Passion.

Accepting the award Wednesday, Barksdale expressed her deep gratitude and spoke candidly of both the joys and challenges of forging a path for black women in local law enforcement.

“There were times when it was not easy being alone in that building,” she said of her early years at IPD, adding, “What I know though is that I was not alone in this community.”

Barksdale cited Diann Sams as a source of support during difficult times. She said she would head to Sams’ office at the Southside Community Center when she had doubts about her chosen career path.

“She really made me remember that I had a responsibility, and it really gave me strength at times when it was really hard in this department,” Barksdale said.

The J. Diann Sams award joins a growing collection for Barksdale, whose efforts in law enforcement, advocacy and business have received many accolades over the years. Yet Barksdale was working for the good of the community long before the community took notice, according to the award committee. “She has been a long distance runner even when she had no company.”

Featured image: Christine Barksdale accepts the J. Diann Sams award from Common Council. (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice)

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at or 607-391-0328.