ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca Police Department Chief Dennis Nayor is retiring this spring, he has confirmed to The Ithaca Voice. He distributed an email with the news earlier Monday. Nayor is planning on remaining in the position until April or May 2021.
Nayor was initially appointed chief in September 2019, though he had served as acting chief for several months prior to his appointment after former police chief Pete Tyler retired in May 2019. Overall, Nayor has worked in law enforcement for 25 years.
As chief, Nayor oversaw the police department during likely its most tumultuous times in recent memory, and perhaps its entire history. Between the infamous incident on the Commons, after which Ithaca police officers were admonished by a local judge for their conduct, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing protests over race-based violence by police nationwide, Nayor’s tenure was marked by crisis after crisis—a fact that weighed on him and influenced his decision.
“It’s been a lot,” Nayor said in an interview. “I’ve got to look after myself and take time for me. This profession is all-consuming, and I give a lot because I care a lot, so you’re never disconnected. I’m proud of the things I’ve gotten to do here, and the trajectory that we’re working towards.”
He further admitted that the multitude of issues he encountered as chief contributed to his decision, emphasized by the recent push to defund the police in the wake of the George Floyd killing by the Minneapolis Police Department, which resulted in local protests that devolved into the first use of pepper spray by IPD in recent memory. There were also two highly publicized police controversies within the department—investigations into the conduct of Det. Christine Barksdale, who was found to have inadequately investigated dozens of sex crimes over a decade long span, and Sgt. Kevin Slattery, who was caught on his own body camera bragging about mistreating a suspect.
“There’s no playbook for it, and it’s just exhausting,” he said. “In the last year or so, the volume and the constant crises that we saw in one year seemed like what would normally occur in a five year period. In this job, you have to be super sharp and always on your A game, and it’s a frenetic pace. That definitely played a part in accelerating (my departure).”
Nayor said he notified the City of Ithaca now of his intentions to leave later this year because he wants to give them time to have a full, comfortable search for a replacement. Additionally, he said he wants to be involved with the Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative effort that is continuing at the city and county levels, with reform plans due by April 2021.
He noted in his email that he was happy to have received the opportunity to lead the department, even considering the almost constant rockiness.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to have led such an amazing Police Department through the most challenging time in modern history,” Nayor wrote in an email to city officials. “I applaud the incredible work of the members of the Ithaca Police Department for their unparalleled response to the global pandemic and the last seven months of civil unrest. They are truly some of the best police officers and support staff I have ever had the privilege of working with and being part of IPD has been a great honor to me.”
Mild-mannered and more receptive to public critique than some of his peers, Nayor’s job performance was praised by Mayor Svante Myrick. He particularly acknowledged Nayor’s leadership during a time when he often faced the brunt of anger at police in general from the public, as well as pressure from those in government in the form of budget stagnation.
“I appreciate Chief Nayor’s service,” Myrick said. “We appreciated his leadership of the department, and we’ll be doing a full robust search for the next police chief.”
Now facing his fourth police chief search since entering office, Myrick said that the city would conduct a broad search for candidates as it always does—though that has yielded two internal hires (Tyler and his predecessor John Barber) and one external hire in the past (Nayor was technically an internal hire, though he was appointed to chief of IPD shortly after being hired in Ithaca as deputy police chief, away from Oneonta). Nayor’s tenure, while fairly brief, isn’t necessarily that short comparatively; Tyler served two years in the post while Barber served four.
Myrick said while longevity in the position would be nice, the flexibility to properly carry out the public safety reforms that are currently being formulated would be a more prominent factor in the decision of who would be the next chief of IPD.
“We need leadership that’s willing and able to do that,” Myrick said. “Whether they’re around for two years or for 20, as long as they’re able to do that, to deliver on meaningful reforms and help create a new relationship with the community, I think that’s most important. More than being able to do the job for a long time.”