ITHACA, N.Y.—Flanked by a large group of fellow law enforcement officers and local union figures, Ithaca Police Benevolent Association President Thomas Condzella offered a strong rebuke at a news conference Friday of the recently introduced Reimagining Public Safety draft proposal, released last week by the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and the Center for Policing Equity.

Reactions have been pouring in, but the union’s objection was likely the strongest so far. Condzella accused the city of risking the public’s safety by aiming to gradually reduce then eliminate the Ithaca Police Department, while also accusing the city of union-busting. He urged the city’s Common Council, who will vote on whether or not to adopt the draft proposal and which parts to change, to reject the proposal outright. You can watch the entire press conference here.

The IPBA, the union that represents IPD officers, maintains an often fraught relationship with Mayor Svante Myrick and his allies, both in the community and within city government. Certainly, its opposition to the plan is not surprising, though Friday’s press conference was far more spectacle than the union normally chooses to employ. Condzella acknowledged that the police have made “mistakes,” but has owned them, and demanded that the Reimagining Public Safety process be halted and reopened.

“We cannot call this anything other than an attempt to destroy a highly-functioning law enforcement agency and a way for the City of Ithaca to circumvent the labor agreement with the PBA. This is a case of union-busting, plain and simple,” he continued. “We also hope that the Common Council will not endorse such poor treatment of any of the city’s public servants. We are open to discussion, but we vehemently oppose this plan as proposed by the city administration, under the direction of Mayor Svante Myrick. (…) This proposal must be voted down by the Ithaca Common Council.”

More than anything, the IPBA pushed back against the first recommendation of the draft proposal, which is to replace the Ithaca Police Department with a Community Solutions and Public Safety Department, which would include designated armed and unarmed officers. That was the primary source of Condzella’s union-busting accusations, though he also spent a significant amount of his speech arguing that the union had not been included in the plan’s formulation to a sufficient extent.

“To say that we feel betrayed and that we are angry is an understatement,” Condzella said as part of a predictably fiery speech. “The city’s Common Council is being asked to adopt this proposal in short order, by the end of March, so that it can be delivered to the governor’s office by April 1, 2021. (…) The Ithaca Police Department already meets the standards of Executive Order 203, and has for quite some time. This leads the Ithaca PBA to believe further that this Executive Order is being used to implement changes that are unnecessary, unprecedented, and likely extremely dangerous. We also believe that this is an underhanded and obvious attempt to bust the union of the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association.”

Executive Order 203, referenced by Condzella, was the directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo issued in spring 2020 in the wake of the nationwide protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which spawned a long stretch of local protests as well. The order called for each municipality to design and submit plans to reform each municipality’s law enforcement force by April 1, 2021, with a particular eye towards analyzing and recognizing the relationship between police and marginalized communities.

Those local protests in particular called for the defunding of IPD in order to redistribute those financial resources to other community services, but the proposed plan, as Myrick has said, would actually likely increase the amount spent on public safety—though, ostensibly, would create a public safety department with a more progressive, community-oriented vision.

Towards the middle of his remarks, Condzella argued that police officers felt they had been left out of the discussions surrounding the reforms, though union leadership was included in a focus group discussing the proposal, insisting that they are open to changes and different training while still pushing back on the larger initiatives set forth in the draft proposal. He also said the proposal, if adopted, would render IPD as an unattractive place to work for law enforcement officers, making it more difficult to recruit officers.

“Because we have been seemingly left out of the conversation, I want to be abundantly clear about something: the members of the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association embrace change. We welcome reform in the way we do business, in our training and in the way we interact with the public,” Condzella said. “We recognize the need and importance of capitalizing on every opportunity for improving relationships with all persons of our community, especially those who are marginalized. (…) Our membership was deeply disturbed and concerned that the perception of some people in the community have of us, especially the perceptions of those that are marginalized, feel that we dehumanize and degrade them. Our membership is welcoming and open to dialog with those who feel that way.”

Condzella’s comments were preceded by a statement of solidarity from the president of the Tompkins County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Members of other police unions from contiguous counties were also in attendance.

Further, Condzella said that the union believes the civilian leader, who will be appointed after IPD’s current chief Dennis Nayor retires in the spring, will be used to “assist the city administration in the further dismantling of the rest of the Ithaca Police Department over the next several months or years until there is nothing left to include in the Ithaca PBA.” Echoing criticism that Nayor has already given voice to, Condzella called the plan “radical.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com