Letter to the editor.
This is a letter to the editor from former Ithaca Police Chief Harlin R. McEwen. To submit opinion letters, please review our letters policy here and submit them to Anna Lamb at alamb@ithacavoice.com.

To the Editor ––

As a retired Ithaca City Police Chief, former Cayuga Heights Police Chief, and retired Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI in Washington, DC, I am very concerned that this proposal is not a common-sense effort to improve law enforcement in the City of Ithaca.  It simply caters to some local activists who hate the police and are intent on destroying a good and well-functioning police department.

My long law enforcement experience with our local law enforcement officers has been very positive and shown daily professionalism with only a rare occasion of a misstep.

A recent increase in acts of violence such as shootings and stabbings in the city should make everyone in the city and county happy that they have a well-functioning police department.  It would be extremely dangerous to disrupt this by a social experiment such as proposed.

The few people who have participated in the recent forums have obviously shown their extreme dislike and hate for the police and this should not be allowed to sway the thinking of our current government leaders about how the police handle daily cases of very stressful events.

Some of the local protesters have been shouting very nasty and disturbing language in the face of our officers while the officers have shown great restraint to ignore these nasty and vulgar utterings.  I doubt many of our citizens would be able to withstand such terrible actions without losing their temper and that is why our officers should be commended for their restraint.

There are those who refuse to acknowledge the unfortunate fact that, we will always have some people with criminal intent among us, as well as those people who are facing drug addiction and mental illness that often result in violent activities when they are not in control of themselves.  For as long as I can remember, there has been a steady loss of funding to deal with mental illness and drug addiction, something that then becomes a problem for the police, the only 24 hour agencies to answer a call for emergencies arising from these situations.

In Ithaca and Tompkins County, our police officers –– municipal, county, and state –– handle dozens of such emergencies every day and seldom do they result in any problem.

I agree with a statement of the Mayor “…..The men and women of the Ithaca Police Department have performed their duties with admirable skill and professionalism, but for too long the answer to every behavioral problem in our City has been to call the police”. He called that practice “impractical” and “cumbersome” and said it exacerbates homelessness, mental illness and addiction.

However, abolishing the city police department is not the answer.  Our government leaders and citizens need to recognize the problem is not the police, but the fact that there is inadequate funding for social services personnel that would be available on a 7-day/24-hour basis to address these problems. Instead, we have totally relied on the police to handle problems they should not be responsible for and then blame them when something goes wrong.

I commend our local government leaders for being responsive to calls for improvements and we should all get involved and work towards those efforts.  However, it should be recognized that our police are already performing admirably every day with limited resources.

Former Ithaca Police Chief Harlin R. McEwen