ITHACA, N.Y. –– Community conversations continued this week regarding the joint recommendations to reform local law enforcement by the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County as members of the Ithaca Police Department, concerned citizens and elected officials came together in a special meeting of the City of Ithaca Common Council Tuesday.
The special “Committee of the Whole” meeting started in a similar fashion to other public forums since the draft report of recommendations was first released, with several IPD officers criticizing suggested reforms including the replacement of the current department in favor of a “Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety.”
“I along with other members of the PBA (Police Benevolent Association) are not against reform, but embrace it. My biggest concern is with Recommendation One,” said Officer Mike Meskill. “There’s a lot left for interpretation and a lot of questions that need to be answered before drastic change.”
Meskill’s comments, bolstered by comments from Frank Stento of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades reiterated the argument that creating a new department would be a form of “union-busting” –– a claim debunked by Mayor Svante Myrick in public comments last week. To recap, the Mayor has assured officers that they will be guaranteed new jobs and their current union and benefits are safe as part of the proposal.
Other officers spoke to issues related to the elimination of the department being prioritized over increased funding to human services agencies –– an idea that was popular in the early stages of community forums and feedback.
“This reform presents the city a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to effect real change. It could greatly enhance services by mental health (professionals) DSS and substance abuse outreach centers with police to include trained staff who could respond 24/7 and be the primary responders in non-violent situations,” Officer James Davenport said. He argued the allocation of funds to these agencies over the new unarmed professionals included in the first of the report’s proposals would free the department to do what they were “intended to do” (i.e. solve violent crimes) and would give officers a chance to get out of their patrol vehicles and get to know the community.
“Instead we are focused on abolishing one of the premier agencies in the state and replacing it with a police department that’s not really called a police department as well as creating another governmental agency of unarmed safety officers to address what we already have agencies for,” Davenport said.
Those in opposition of the plan for opposite reasons were also present at the meeting, arguing that the new proposals actually strengthen the status quo by giving more money and resources to law enforcement. It is worth noting the 19 proposals included in the draft plan do come with a price tag, while also changing the workflow and response tactics prioritized by the officers in the new department.
One of those in opposition because of the continued arming of officers with increased city funding was Rayvon Kenyon, a leader in the Ithaca Pantheras and active participant in rallies for police abolition and racial justice over the summer. Rayvon was also present during the latest clash between pro and anti police activists this past weekend.
“All the police that are here right now, I watched this past Sunday, a white supremacist pull out bear mace to a police officer and not once did they go towards their gun or their taser,” Rayvon said. “This proposition I was actually hoping would help us all out including the police officers because I’m tired of getting beaten up or watching someone else get beaten up every time the cops stress out.”
Despite opposition from both sides of the political aisle, there were actually several people at Tuesday’s meeting that spoke in favor of the draft report and its proposals, arguing that this new change is better than what exists currently, and that change is very much needed in the current moment.
Yasmin Rashid was one of the people taking this position. Rashid was also active in the racial justice protests this summer and is now running for Common Council.
“I do wholeheartedly believe it’s a good first step and if we don’t support it there’s no alternative at the moment,” Rashid said. “While there may be some decent officers within the structure of IPD, the truth of the matter is when it comes to the marginalized and disenfranchised community IPD has not done their jobs properly.”
Rashid was followed up in this sentiment by her colleague in leading some summer actions, Jordan Clemons, who stated, “we need change, (and) I urge our entire community to come together.”
The next chance to weigh in on the draft report recommendation to “Reimagine Public Safety” is TONIGHT at 6 p.m. Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca are hosting a virtual town hall with a special emphasis on lifting voices of people of color (while all are welcome.)
Again that is TONIGHT, Thursday, March 18, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The event is being held in collaboration with the Baptized Church of Jesus Christ of The Apostolic Faith, the Calvary Baptist Church, the Tompkins County Veterans Services and the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights.