ITHACA, N.Y.—After months of furor and charged rhetoric, last week’s introduction of the long-awaited plans to restructure the Ithaca Police Department `as part of the Reimagining Public Safety campaign drew a fairly muted response from the community, both those in favor and against.

As outlined in the Ithaca Voice‘s initial analysis of the proposed plan last week, the overall gist, in terms of police restructuring, is the introduction of a new Division of Community Solutions staffed by unarmed responders — which is designed to take some of the workload from the police, along with the installation of a civilian Community Safety Commissioner who would oversee both the new division and the Division of Police, which is essentially the renamed police department.

Specifically, that reallocated workload that DCS would undertake is supposed to come from calls that shouldn’t require any armed response; theoretically, the mere presence of an armed responder in those situations could escalate the tension of a situation and lead to a worse outcome.

Even the most vocal critics of the Reimagining process have been fairly muted in their response—like the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, which has yet to comment publicly on the plan beyond a rather demure statement that IPBA President Thomas Condzella released last week before the plan was unveiled.

Regardless, project leads Eric Rosario and Karen Yearwood, who jointly led the Reimagining Public Safety Working Group, have answered some of the questions that were left lingering after the 120-page document’s release last week.

First in line were concerns regarding the number of community responders being hired, which is five to start, and their ability to handle the high number of calls the division would be expected to receive as part of the effort to alleviate call load on the police department and find better-suited responders.

To refresh, from last week’s article:

Police should be responding to the following: assault, bomb threat, burglary, criminal mischief, dead body, house alarm, intoxication, robbery, shots fired, stabbing, warrant, weapons, 911 call hang-ups. Meanwhile, the Division of Community Solutions would respond to animal bites and problems, fraudulent checks, child abuse, civil complaints, escorts, outside fires and fireworks, fraud, hazardous materials, welfare checks, and other lower concern service calls, like parking issues or noise complaints, etc. 

A substantial list of other calls are listed as situationally dependent, meaning they could be assigned to either division or perhaps even both if that is deemed necessary. Those include disorderly conduct, disputes, domestic incidents, traffic issues, trespassing, drugs, harassment, overdose, psychiatric checks, sex offenses, and more.

Judging from that list, it is obvious that the Division of Community Solutions would face a very large call demand that would be sheerly impossible for a staff of five to cover. That notion is confirmed by the Matrix Consulting Group’s police staffing demands report, a relevant portion of which is shown below:

These are the 10 most popular calls for service to IPD in 2019, numbers used by Matrix to formulate their demands assessment. IPD had just over 12,000 calls for service that year.

Rosario and Yearwood clarified that the five community responders would be the “initial cohort for a one-year period, during which, under the leadership of the Commissioner and the Director of the DCS, and working closely with the Director of Police, the department will evaluate service delivery and determine additional community responders.”

While the full call volume that would fall under the responsibility of DCS would be fairly large, Rosario and Yearwood said that in the short-term those responders will only be expected to handle “a portion of the call volume for the call types delineated to their division.” Police will still respond to the remaining calls for the time being, regardless of whether they are delineated to DCS or police in the proposed plan, which is feasible with IPD’s current staffing, according to Rosario, Yearwood and the Matrix report on the department presented in December.

“We want to learn, assess and adjust, and grow from there,” the officials said. “Current police could continue to cover the rest of that volume during this initial period. With this initial cohort, we will build a foundation for the most robust and appropriate delivery of public safety our community deserves.”

Analysis of the call load during that first year will inform if more community solutions responders are needed beyond the initial group of five.

Additionally, there have been only three official police officer departures from the department since September 2020, according to the working group, which was five months before the reimagining plan was even introduced. Two of those were retirements, and one was a resignation—numbers that further dispel the thought that the Reimagining Public Safety effort would propel police officers away from IPD, though whether or not recruitment issues are realized remains to be seen.

DCS responders will be paid significantly less than police officers, with salaries of about $57,000 per year (at least to start), though they will be able to unionize if desired. It is unclear if DCS workers will be eligible for overtime pay, which usually represents quite a bit of extra yearly money for police officers. Rosario and Yearwood said it’s not clear yet if any specific incentives to appeal to current police officers to become unarmed responders.

“We feel strongly that the community responder roles, and any new Community Safety roles will be attractive to applicants,” they said. “The City of Ithaca strives to be an employer of choice and works hard to recruit dedicated public servants, and create salary scales that best support their success and retention. We do expect that City staff from other departments may be interested in these responder roles, though we don’t know if there would be any specific incentives to lure that type of activity.”

Additionally, training for DCS responders will be handled “internally,” something the working group envisions the incoming Commissioner of Community Safety overseeing, though Ithaca’s Department of Human Resources would also be involved in developing a curriculum that would apply to both new community solutions responders and current police officers.

Matt Butler

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