TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—This week’s Tompkins County Legislature meeting featured the launch of a new unarmed response team through the Sheriff’s Office amid plenty of other issues tackled on a packed agenda Tuesday night.

To begin, legislature Chair Shawna Black read proclamations acknowledging June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month in Tompkins County as well as recognizing Juneteenth, which will be celebrated county-wide on Monday, June 20, 2022.

The full agenda for the June 7 Tompkins County Legislature meeting can be found here, and the meeting can be watched here.

Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne gave a presentation about two new sheriff clerk positions the Sheriff’s Office has created.

“This is one of our recommendations that we’ve been working on. We’ve hired two sheriff clerks to attempt to handle non-emergency calls for service,” he said, explaining that the sheriff clerks are part of an unarmed officers pilot program.

The sheriff clerks will respond to calls for non-emergency situations like car accidents involving deer or other animals, traffic issues and complaints, property complaints like lost items from the Department of Motor Vehicles, vacant property checks, fraud and telephone scams, larceny and theft with no suspects as well as noise complaints. For context, between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2021, the TCSO received 3,277 property check requests, 2,627 traffic safety calls and 220 animal calls, to name a few of what the sheriff clerks will take over. Obviously, if there is overflow during a given day, deputies will handle that.

The goal of the program is to decrease the number of calls that deputies have to respond to — something Osborne said has been a challenge over the past few years as staff shortages impact the TCSO. It’s quite reminiscent of the proposed Division of Community Solutions team that the City of Ithaca has proposed, though it is unclear if that program will move forward.

For Tompkins County, with the additional officers handling calls that deputies would have to otherwise, the office hopes to free up time for emergency calls, to complete investigations and build relationships with community members.

Eventually, he said, after the two clerks are fully trained and ready to take calls by themselves, they will be scheduled for four 10-hour shifts each over the office’s busiest times, which are typically Thursday through Sunday during the afternoon and evening hours.

To measure success of the program, community members will be asked to review the call types and provide input for the future rubric of the program’s performance.

Other notes and news items

The legislature also voted on several items. Passing unanimously, the body voted to secure parts of the Tompkins County Jail to use for detaining youths when necessary rather then relying on potentially out-of-state facilities. Osborne said that with the jail population having decreased significantly, space is available and it would be beneficial for youths if they need to be held to remain local to their families.

Also passing unanimously is an agreement to share Tompkins County’s microwave system bandwidth with Broome County in the case of an emergency. Tompkins County only utilizes 20% of its bandwidth currently, so the county would see no detriment were it to share its services.

Passing with 11 in favor and three opposed, the legislature declared support for the New York State Draft Climate Action Council Scoping Plan at the statewide level. Mike Sigler, most notably opposed, said that the 350-page document on the plan is an “unrealistic goal, and we’re not going to make it. […] It doesn’t really go into how we’re actually going to get the power to energize all these things.”

Another unanimous passing resolution authorized the Tompkins County College Operating Budget to go be approved elsewhere in the state for the 2022–23 academic year.

The legislature also voted 13-1 to allow continued virtual public meetings. After lengthy follow-ups on the topic of what qualifies as an extenuating circumstance, agreement was reached determining that if legislators attend virtually, they can still vote but won’t be counted toward the meeting’s quorum.

During the meeting’s public comment section, Republican Ithaca mayoral candidate Zach Winn addressed the legislature, calling for a “complete halt” of the Reimagining Public Safety effort while the ethics investigation involving former Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick moves forward. The effort is a collaboration between the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County. Additionally, Winn suggested that “the role of chief equity and diversity officer be eliminated as an office within the Tompkins County government as any funds intended for that role could be better spent elsewhere.” Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Deanna Carrithers, the first to hold that role, will be leaving that position at the end of June.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...