The police officer-involved death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis led to a call for nationwide law enforcement reform as demonstrators denounced police brutality during protests that swept across the country last summer.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 203 in June to direct local police agencies statewide to review their forces and develop plans to improve them.
The directive led the city of Ithaca, New York, in collaboration with Tompkins County, to release a recommendations report on Monday that reimagines its public safety and law enforcement.
“My state is a black hole of stupidity. Ithaca (NY) Mayor Calls for Abolishing Police Dept, Replacing With ‘Community Solution Workers’,” one Twitter user posted on Thursday.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick told Newsweek that he is calling for the creation of a new public safety department in place of the existing Ithaca Police Department (IPD) that he has overseen for the past 10 years.
“If we need evidence that we reached a breaking point, I don’t know what you need beyond this past year [with Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests],” he said.
Myrick has proposed that the IPD be replaced with a civilian-led Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety, made up of armed “public safety workers” and unarmed “community solution workers.” The employees would answer to a civilian director of public safety, who would have the authority equivalent of a police chief, according to Myrick.
This idea came from the community asking for a different type of public safety.
“The conclusion we came to was this actually sounds like we need two different jobs. We need to split this job up, create two different jobs and have those jobs work in tandem,” Myrick said about the public safety workers and community solution workers.
His proposed recommendation, a part of a series of recommendations, is detailed in a 98-page Reimagining Public Safety draft report published Monday. It was written through a collective effort with Myrick, Ithaca city staff, Tompkins County staff, academics and law enforcement, and is subject to legislative review and approval.
“Based in evidence and designed with equity in mind, we should create a new department that is better aligned with community values, resources, and officer abilities,” Myrick wrote in a letter included in the report.
The report is the result of nine months of examining the local law enforcement, culminating in the collection of data and evidence in support of recommending dismantling the existing police department made up of 63 officers for the creation of something new.
“The last 10 years there’s been increasing discontent and mistrust between the community and the police department, and there are structural reasons for that,” Myrick said.
In the report, Myrick wrote that volunteers, data scientists, survey respondents, focus group participants, public commentators, law enforcement officers and the Center for Policing equity worked together to generate the report.
“It was a team effort,” he said.
Myrick said that there are a few benefits to creating a new department instead of reforming the existing police department, such as designing job descriptions to meet the actual demand instead of retrofitting what already is there.
“You can try and make your refrigerator act like an air conditioner. You could do that. It would be inefficient, it’ll be expensive,” he said. “Ultimately, it won’t work as well as if you built an air conditioner from the ground.”
Myrick said that the current city police officers are overworked with “an enormous portfolio of issues,” including mental illness, homelessness and substance abuse.
“The police just became a catch-all because they’re the only agency that’s open 24/7,” he said.
The report looked at data and evidence that includes call types, focus groups for law enforcement and focus groups with the community, and presented the research.
“IPD currently spends one third of its time responding to calls for service that essentially never lead to arrests,” Myrick wrote in the report. “Those calls, as well as a majority of patrol activity can and should be handled by unarmed Community Solution Workers well trained in de-escalation and service delivery. This will allow our new Public Safety Workers to focus on preventing, interrupting and solving serious crime.”
Appendix Item 6, titled “Assessment of Public Safety Service Demand,” contains the data findings on IPD calls for service.
The proposed civilian-led department would receive funding the same way the IPD receives funding through locally funded sales tax and property tax, according to Myrick.
If the plan is approved in March by the City Council, Myrick said, it plans to establish a Community Justice Center to help implement the recommendations in the report.
“All plans have to be approved by the respective legislative body. So it’s kind of the legislatures, city councils, town boards, etc.,” Myrick said. “I’ll have to approve their respective municipalities’ plans.”
The final report is to be delivered to Cuomo’s office on April 1.
The IPD budget for 2021 is about $12.5 million, according to the report.
Myrick has proposed a creation of the Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety to replace the Ithaca Police Department.
Myrick told Newsweek that he would not use the terms “abolishing” or “defunding” the police in regards to the proposed plan and instead that it seeks to create a new public safety department.