As Chief of Police for the City of Ithaca Police Department, I am writing in response to an Ithaca Voice article published on May 2, 2019, surrounding an incident involving Ithaca Police Officers and their use of force while taken two subjects into custody last month.
Both the Mayor and District Attorney were quoted and offered perspective and now I’m authoring this letter to provide an additional viewpoint.
Having been a Police Officer in this city for nearly 28 years, there is one thing which clearly stands out to me, and that is the overwhelming support we as a department receive from the community for the amazing work that is done by the IPD Officers and support staff. The law enforcement profession involves unpredictability, long hours, and frequent responses to sudden situations that create uncertainty as to what any given call for service may potentially bring. Whether the call equates to a positive interaction (as most are) with an opportunity for our officers to demonstrate their ability to connect with community members, or the call requires officers to take immediate and effective action, police typically do not know what they are dealing with until they are on-scene.
The reality is that many responses must be made in split seconds, without the benefit of hindsight. This is supported by the 1989 Graham v. Connor Supreme Court ruling which allows for objective reasonableness based upon the fact that officers are met with circumstances that are fluid and often occurring within environments which lack stability and clear knowledge regarding a person’s intentions or capabilities. This court ruling dictates how we all must look at police officer’s decision-making, which is by using an objective reasonableness standard. The incident on The Commons is no different on how we must review the actions of our officers.
In the April 6th Common’s incident, the officers were faced with a violent situation and had no prior context of how or why it started; they just saw a violent situation unfold in front of them. When arriving at the fight, they observed the primary aggressor (Ie; the subject who was observed punching and knocking down another party) resist attempts to be taken into physical custody. The decision to use the required force necessary to gain compliance is that of the responding officers to make and that decision is based upon the extensive training they receive. Variables such as subject size, levels of compliance (or non-compliance) the officer’s size, ability, training, locations, crowd size, and potential for further violence on the part of the suspect, are all factors an officer, under those circumstances, must rapidly consider and assess. There is never going to be a violent encounter that is pretty, but what I can tell you is that everything starts with the suspect’s behavior and willingness to demonstrate compliance. Our officers take great pride in being well trained and having the ability to mitigate and de-escalate a dangerous situation before violence occurs. In this case however, the officers had to respond instantly to an act of violence and prevent further violence or injury from occurring at the hands of the suspect who had already demonstrated a clear propensity to cause physical harm to another human being, regardless of the circumstances that led up to what the officers first witnessed.
To further exacerbate the incident, the involved female party made a poor decision and aggressively intervened, which was extremely dangerous for everyone. This person physically struck a uniformed officer twice in the head. Let that sink in for a second; A uniformed Police Officer, attempting to detain a subject for assaulting someone, (who resisted attempts for officers to take control of him) is on the ground and now completely vulnerable to bystanders, is struck in the head multiple times. This female is then subsequently arrested, all while many bystanders were screaming, yelling, and advancing on the officers who were trying to control two subjects now under arrest. I want our community to know that it is never ok to intervene during an arrest, or obstructing a lawful arrest by physically striking a uniformed police officer. This behavior, or the ignoring of this fact, must never be accepted as a norm or tolerated as a community.
At IPD, we hold our officers to the highest standards of professionalism and provide the best training for the benefit of the citizens of we serve. To hear accusations cast out against our officers without full and proper context, or by using inflammatory terms such as “brutalizing” or even suggesting that race was a factor in the arrest without any concrete facts to support such an accusation is wrong and reckless. The Ithaca Police Department will always look for areas in which to improve, and we openly invite conversation about any areas that are concerning to our citizens. We should, and do, accept scrutiny and when warranted, have a comprehensive internal and external investigation process in place to address deficiencies or complaints. Please also remember that although Body Worn Camera footage is largely important, it does not tell the whole story of any one incident. This may include later admissions by suspects, officers accounting of details such as; what, where, how, why, unseen angles, and subtle time differences that can and does provide or change context among other things.
Our police are out patrolling every day 24/7, ensuring that your safety is their primary concern. We are grateful for those of you who support the IPD as it is appreciated more than you know. I openly encourage anyone to respectfully engage in conversation with us, attend our citizens police academy when offered, and pay attention to what our police department is doing on a regular basis, many times without recognition. I could not be any more proud of the job that our men and woman do every day as they protect and serve this City. Although sometimes very difficult when emotions run high or perceived injustice is present, we hope that judgment and assumptions are not formed until all facts are accurately known. I want to thank you for considering the points outlined in this article and we look forward to our continued service to you.
Chief of Police