Senior Reporter Anna Lamb contributed reporting and writing to this story.
UPDATE: Quotes further detailing the Ithaca Teachers Association’s stance on the public safety reform effort have been added.
TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Reimagining Public Safety Plan proposal was introduced in late February, and since then a series of public meetings, feedback forums and vocal support and opposition have held the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County’s attention.
All of that was in preparation for the next two days, when governing bodies in both municipalities will vote on how many of the 19 recommendations they will implement. Playing out in the background has been a constant tug of war between the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and those who oppose any changes to the Ithaca Police Department, led most notably by the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, the union representing IPD officers.
The Common Council will vote on the draft proposal Wednesday night (meeting via YouTube at 6 p.m.), while the Tompkins County Legislature is meeting about the topic Tuesday, March 30. The plans are due back to the state by April 1.
More coverage of the proposal is available at the following links:
- Reimagining Intro and press conference
- First Feedback meeting
- Common Council’s first look
- Tompkins County Legislature’s first look
- Budget impact clarified
- Southside Community Center forum
- FAQ published as feedback continues
- Reforms reignite protests and counter-protests
Even national media has been involved. First, a highly celebratory story of the reforms came out in GQ Magazine featuring Mayor Svante Myrick, though he admitted that may have backfired on him. Then, most recently, there was a curiously-timed story in the New York Post, and subsequently picked up by Fox News, this week about Richard Rivera, a local non-profit homeless advocate and one of the people who served as an advisor on the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force.
The gist of the story revolved around Rivera spending almost 40 years in prison for killing a police officer during a robbery in Brooklyn and this not discrediting him from participating in the task force, though the story had already been reported before both locally and nationally. It has certainly ruffled some feathers locally, though it may be too late for it to have much of an impact on the actual vote outcome.
Maguire Family Dealership Enters the Fray
The saga took another unexpected turn late last week, when Maguire Family Dealerships, Ithaca’s most prominent automotive seller, blasted out an email to, apparently, all of their customer base. It said that they had been “asked to pass along a petition for those that are residents, business owners and community member of the Ithaca area that may be affected by these proposed changes.”
The attached petition is the same one that has been repeatedly promoted by the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, which calls for the full rejection of the Reimagining Public Safety draft proposal and paints an overtly bleak portrait of the proposal.
Among the petition’s allegations is that Ithaca Police Officers would be eliminated (which is true in name only, as none of them would have to reapply for their positions under the new system) and that it would “reduce(e) the readiness and ability of the officers and department to respond to critical incidents” due to the SWAT vehicle’s repurposing.
When asked what compelled the company to inject itself into the public safety reform effort and whether or not the company had shared information with the IPBA, Maguire spokesperson Ashley Greenlee provided the following statement:
“We do not share customer information, we do not have any official business relationships with local law enforcement (Ithaca Police Department or Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office) and any communication would go to those possibly affected by the proposed changes,” she wrote in an e-mail. She apologized that she did not have any more information.
Other emails provided to the Ithaca Voice from Maguire officials to angered customers insist that the company’s distribution of the petition does not mean they are taking a position or stance on the issue, though the IPBA has been vocally opposed to it.
Local unions split on proposal support
As mentioned above, the IPBA has made their opposition to the proposal obvious, and in doing so they’ve rallied support from a variety of different union sources locally and around the state. Most visibly, the police union held a press conference flanked by other law enforcement union officials and people representing the local labor and trades unions as well. Unions outside of Ithaca, like the statewide AFL-CIO, also condemned the proposal.
More recently, and perhaps more surprisingly, the IPBA published a letter of support from the Ithaca Teachers Association, signed by “Ithaca Teachers Association Executive Officers.” The ITA, as mentioned in its letter, represents 600 educators in the Ithaca City School District. The ITA’s letter primarily has to deal with an ode to social justice and their belief that reform is necessary for the policing system.
“As an association that is committed to causes that promote social justice and equality for all, we are committed to doing our part to help advance a more just community and world where an individual’s age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and physical and mental abilities are seen as assets and not used as levers of oppression,” states the letter. “We recognize the complicated history of policing in our nation and the more recent occurrences around the country, and we understand that there is a need for more conversations and efforts to support systemic change.”
However, the ITA also states that it is hesitant to embrace the effort while feeling like the police union was left out of the process, a contended point but certainly one that the IPBA has pushed over the last several weeks.
“To propose a plan that dissolves an entire department of employees and then requires those employees to reapply for any rebranded job title is an overt attempt at eliminating an existing public employee group, their collective bargaining agreement, and is one that we as fellow union advocates can not abide by,” the letter states.
The premise of their statement may be wrong, though, as Myrick has already corrected the record that Ithaca police officers will not have to re-apply for their positions in the reimagined department that would include armed and unarmed officers.
Myrick has responded to these allegations of union-busting by, essentially, saying he’s not union-busting because the threat that the union would have to dissolve is imaginary—in the city’s mind, the PBA would still be able and allowed to exist as long as it still wanted to.
Alternatively, the local Tompkins County Workers Center, known as the most staunch union supporter and oft-used resource for those wishing to organize their workplace and unionize, took an odd tenor considering their history. While they didn’t actually take a position on whether or not the plan constituted union-busting, they chose a more circumspect route: that even if it is union-busting, the harm caused by PBAs outweighs the societal benefits they may bring, and so PBAs should not exist.
“If this were any other occupation, we at the Workers’ Center would not dismiss accusations of union busting. But the working class needs our governments to move on from traditional American policing, and invest directly in the communities who have been over-policed and under-represented,” they wrote. “We are not endorsing the mayor’s proposal; we would rather see less money spent on policing and more money spent on community programs that truly keep people safe, like youth programs, affordable housing, and food access.”