TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– The Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office released its first-ever annual report Friday, with data outlining the office’s activity for 2019 and 2020. The report is the first of its kind in “years and years” according to Sheriff Derek Osborne, and comes on the heels of a major police reform effort undertaken by both the City of Ithaca and the county as a whole.

“I think a lot of people don’t know what we do every day and the activities we’re involved in and the people that make up the sheriff’s office,” Sheriff Osborne said. “So I think it’s a really good thing to provide the community to be more transparent and get them to be able to have an opportunity to know us better.”

In 2019, the Ithaca Police Department released a similar report, also for the first time. IPD produced a similar report in 2020 and 2021 as well. View the entire Sheriff’s Office report here.

Contained within the 43-page report is a brief overview of employees and teams including data on staffing, training highlights, use of force statistics, crime statistics and corrections statistics, amongst other things. Interwoven is commentary from Sheriff Osborne, who took office in 2019, in which he highlights his office’s achievements and goals, provided both in the report and in a separate interview with the Ithaca Voice. Jump to the topics by clicking above.

“I am extremely proud to present my annual report combining the first two years of my first four-year term as your Sheriff,” Osborne writes in the report. “The men and women of the Sheriff’s Office have worked tirelessly to create a Sheriff’s Office that serves all members of our community with honor, pride, and integrity.”

Notably, many of the achievements highlighted are in line with progressive goals laid out during the last year of “reimagining public safety”—especially efforts to demilitarize law enforcement in order to foster positive relationships with the community.

“We’re a community service organization. That’s the end of the story,” Osborne said. “Basically, I don’t want people to be fearful of us. We’re public servants. We should be approachable. And all members of the community should feel comfortable communicating with us and interacting with us.”

County crime

According to data released in the report, which includes numbers from 2018, 2019, and 2020, crimes that saw an increase across all three of those years were simple assault, theft from motor vehicles, vandalism, drug violations and weapons law violations. Other areas such as burglary, DUIs, shoplifting and other larcenies saw year-to-year drops into 2020, perhaps in connection to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, according to Osborne, the slight fluctuations have not raised any red flags on criminal trends.

“When you have the added influences we’ve had over the last couple of years, you know, certain things would change,” he said. “Look at the stats as a whole and you can see increases in certain areas. But on a day-to-day basis, when it comes to our operations and our deputies responding to things, it doesn’t really cause a blip on everybody’s radar.”

The above data is categorized using Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) categories, which can also be simplified into Crimes Against Persons, Crimes Against
Property and Crimes Against Society. Trends across the three years in Tompkins County show a slight decrease in property crimes, with the other two categories evening out.

Overall, there has also been a slight increase in the total number of crimes reported.

In addition, UCR statistics account for all crimes that occurred during an incident and far outweigh actual arrests. According to the report, 554 arrests were made compared to 1,135 reported crimes and in 2020, 497 arrests were made compared to 1,116 crimes. It's unclear how many of the crimes laid out in the report resulted in arrests.

Use of force

In that same dataset, the Sheriff's Office analyzed Use of Force instances amongst calls for service for 2019 and 2020—a statistic that has become increasingly scrutinized as the public has called for an end to police brutality.

Out of more than 14,000 calls for service in 2019 there were 7 "use of force" incidents and 11 "show of force" incidents. Strikingly, out of roughly the same number of calls in 2020, there were 19 "use of force" incidents and 9 "show of force incidents."

The defining characteristics of "show of force" and "use of force" come from the Sheriff's use of force policy issued in May of 2020, which also requires deputies to complete a defensive action report when they use any force against a subject "above un-resisted handcuffing." They define "show of force" as "the presentation of an office approved less-lethal force option (i.e. taser, pepper spray etc.) or firearm in an effort to gain compliance."

"Use of force" in this report is defined as "use of an office approved hands-on technique or deployment of a less-lethal force option to gain compliance."

SWAT

In its report, the Sheriff's Office also outlines the use of the SWAT team and vehicle by its deputies—a statistic that stayed static in 2019 and 2020. The Sheriff's Office deployed SWAT once each year—in Osborne's eyes justifying the ownership of the controversial vehicle, despite calls over the last year to retire the truck.

"We need it in the times that I've used it in the county have been situations where we've had people barricaded, where we know they have weapons or believe they have weapons and they're going to use them against us," Osborne said. "We try to use it as little as possible, but I would hate to see it go away completely because there are times we need it."

Osborne continued, adding that he believes having SWAT capabilities, which is a joint effort between the IPD and the Sheriff's Office, gives local law enforcement leaders added control in volatile situations.

"I would hate to rely on another agency, say either the state police or some other county to bring their SWAT team in. Because once I do that, I start losing control over the decision-making authority, especially with the state police, because if I call them in and they handle a SWAT incident, they're going to do it their way and they're going to make the decisions," he said.

Truck 99, also known as the Mobile Command Truck for SWAT, was the center of plenty of feedback during the formulation of the Reimagining Public Safety document, with many saying it was too intimidating and too militarized for the level of policing necessary in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

After much back and forth negotiation, the vehicle is being repainted white and the weapons storage inside of the truck is being removed. The two teams will both also be receiving new uniforms, replacing camouflage with normal police officer uniforms unless the situation demands camouflage for safety. That process is expected to take until next year.

Tompkins County Jail

Between 2019 and 2020 there was a drop in incarceration at the county jail, indicated through a lower average daily inmate count.

The most notable drops in population came from those charged with D and E felonies, and "intermittents" which are those serving an alternative sentence in portions.

Osborne pointed to bail reform and alternatives to incarceration being instituted by both New York State and local courts as possible reasons for the drop.

"I can't take all this credit," he said. "This is something the county has worked on before I was even sheriff." He added that it will be important to watch jail population trends as more progressive measures are passed. District Attorney Matt Van Houten has often talked about his own efforts to lower the incarcerated population in the county through a variety of means.

"We're doing something really new...So we have to see how it plays out." Osborne continued, "I think it's important to our community because it gives us the opportunity to truly correct behaviors of people that need help. And unfortunately, just being held in a cell doesn't do that right."

Staffing

In the report, it was stressed that "hiring police officers and corrections officers is a recognized challenge nation-wide with most agencies struggling to fill their ranks" but that "the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office established hiring strategies that expedited the hiring process but did not decrease the quality of hires."

Osborne said this was achieved, and that he plans on increasing staffing moving forward, is through an increase in lateral transfers. He states in the report that this helps skip the longer training process while saving money on budget expenses.

"I don't feel we ever have really had sufficient numbers, even before I was Sheriff and I was working here –– our numbers are very minimal." He went on to say, "But, you know, we're making gains. We've hired a lot of new people and we're signing them up and getting them in the academy."

Overtime

Strikingly, the report boasts major savings in overtime hours worked with "no drop in service."

"At the lowest ranking pay scale, this has resulted in overtime savings of at least 3,036 hours per year, which equates to approximately $94,996 in savings for 2019-2020," writes Osborne.

The funds saved from overtime were redirected into the county general fund.

Police overtime has been a point of contention nationally, with many politicians and activists calling for exorbitant overtime pay scales to be reined in.

"People think it's a money or accounting issue," Osborne said. "But it's managing your resources and managing your people and when you do that money follows."

Now that this initial report has been published the Sheriff's Office is expected to do more annual reports, either on a yearly or bi-annual basis.

"Hopefully now that we have the template down, it'll be easier to kind of do one every year and do it more timely," Osborne said.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com