ITHACA, N.Y.—Common Council received some of the most substantial data analysis yet on Ithaca Police Department staffing at its meeting Wednesday night, as some of the data interpretation work of the Reimagining Public Safety working group began taking shape.

You can watch the full meeting here, or take a look at the agenda here.

A presentation was led by Eric Rosario, who is leading the working group, and Hans Menos, of the Center for Policing Equity, which is helping with the process. Rosario said that the working group has moved into examining recommendations made for community engagement and potential names of the new department.

However, the meat of the presentation came in the form of a data analysis conducted by Matrix Consulting, which was contracted by the Center for Policing Equity, one of the leaders of the Reimagining process.

Rosario then walked the audience through the findings, which “analyzed 911 calls and officer workload, staffing of the patrol officer unit, and hypothetical call diversion and alternative service delivery data.” Overall, it seemed to dispute claims that the Ithaca Police Department is strained to the point of operational shortcomings, claims that are often advanced by IPD officials and the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association (Common Council member George McGonigal did point out that IPD members of the Reimagining Working Group objected to the analysis’ conclusions).

Response times for service, the presentation stated, are at a median of 10.5 minutes, which “indicate[s] that IPD has the capacity to handle calls in a timely manner as they occur.” Further, the report states that 59 percent of IPD officers’ time while on patrol is available to use proactively, while 41 percent is spent responding to calls for service from the community.

“These findings indicate that current staffing is sufficient to provide a high level of patrol service,” the report concluded. “There has not been a consistent increase in calls for service over the past five years. However, the amount of officer-initiated activities that are conducted, such as traffic stops, has dropped significantly.”

Perhaps most saliently to the specific goals of the law enforcement reform effort, the report found that 22 percent of all calls for service that are handled by IPD “could be handled by an alternative unarmed response”—in other words, by the Community Solutions workers that have been proposed.

Rosario said that the data presented wasn’t supposed to be a “deep dive,” but give at least a summary view.

“The Matrix study and their data was strongly questioned by members of IPD who are on the task force, they really didn’t think that data was accurate,” McGonigal said, as mentioned earlier.

Menos further clarified that one of the sources of the disagreement from police officers with the data was, perhaps, a misinterpretation of part of the findings—he clarified that “discretionary time” was not considered “free time” by those analyzing the data.

“No one’s accusing the officers of not doing anything during the discretionary time, and in my mind, for some people, that’s the way it was being received,” Menos said.

Rosario acknowledged McGonigal’s comment, while leaving the door open for more study on similar issues that could further analyze staffing needs of the department.

“This is just a part of the conversation, we acknowledge there are divergent viewpoints on this,” Rosario said. “We’ll have to reconcile those. That’s part of it. […] But it’s important to have data, to see what it’s saying and consider that.”

A Permanent Streatery

The idea of a permanent Streatery located in the 100 block of North Aurora Street seems to be dead, for the time being, after last night’s Common Council meeting saw no action taken on a possible study analyzing the feasibility of a year-round implementation (or, at least, mostly year-round), discussed thoroughly at last month’s City Administration Committee meeting.

Certainly, in the hearts and minds of the Ithaca Voice comment section and letter to the editor’s inbox, the idea of a permanent blockade on Aurora Street for the Streatery’s permanent installation was unpopular, but it had its supporters within the restaurant community and certain city officials, including Mayor Svante Myrick. However, Myrick withdrew his proposed resolution calling for an examination of opening the Streatery permanently in 2022 after sufficient support wasn’t evident.

“I wanted the chance to regroup and see if we could put together a plan that would build support, looks like we have not been able to do that,” Myrick said at the beginning of the meeting. “The consensus view of Council members I’ve spoken to is that closing Aurora Street is nice as a sometimes thing, and if there was the opportunity to close it on certain nights or weekends for festivals, we could do that. But keeping it closed on a semi-permanent basis is not totally workable.”

Myrick cited the public outcry, particularly from South Hill residents, about traffic congestion and complications as primary reasons for postponing the idea.

More news and notes:

  • For the first time in over a decade, the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association and the City of Ithaca have agreed to a new labor contract. That story is a bit too complex to include here, so the Ithaca Voice will have a full story up later today with more information and hopefully provide the full contract for the public to read.
  • McGonigal introduced a resolution that subtracts the minimum data requirement for 5G coverage in the City of Ithaca, potentially hamstringing its entry into the Ithaca market. He said the addition of the requirement was “last-minute,” and the resolution passed 7-3.
  • Public comment was brief during December’s meeting. The first public commenter spoke about his concerns and displeasure regarding 5G and minimum wireless data accuracy under section 5.1 of Wednesday’s night’s meeting agenda. Local activist Zack Winn prefaced by saying that as this was the last meeting with the current Council makeup he felt obliged to speak. He then stated that while he holds the utmost respect for Council members as individuals, as a Council they have alienated law enforcement, allowed crime to escalate and failed their constituents as well as those who work in and travel to Ithaca.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com