Ithaca increases police signing bonus, again

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Acting Mayor Laura Lewis at the Southside Community Center in July. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

Police officers who transfer to Ithaca’s police department will now receive $20,000 as a hiring bonus.

Ithaca’s Common Council voted unanimously to once again increase the police sign-on bonus for lateral transfers during a special meeting last week

A lateral transfer refers to when a law enforcement agency hires a candidate already employed as a police officer elsewhere.

The police department’s sign-on bonus for lateral transfer hires has grown significantly since it was introduced last November in the city budget. The incentive started at $10,000, then grew to $15,000.

Now, officers hired through the process can expect a bonus of $20,000 to be paid out in two sums; half upon hire and the other half at the end of the first full year on the job.

Acting Police Chief John Joly said a $15,000 bonus was enough to attract two promising candidates. But he told Common Council members there’s no guarantee those applicants will accept the job. 

“It’s just to attract candidates, we’re competing with virtually every department in the state,” Joly said.

Joly argued IPD’s compensation package for lateral transfers wasn’t competitive enough compared to other local law enforcement agencies.

“We actually had an applicant that was a certified police officer in New York state that was from Tompkins County who reached out to us,” Joly said.

But, he added, the candidate accepted a job offer from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s department instead.

“Our starting pay for the lateral [transfer] was not as competitive as the sheriff’s department,” Joly said.

He’s hoping the extra money will help with recruiting more officers.

Ithaca’s police force has a number of vacancies — about a dozen officers are currently on paid leave.

“IPD is in a pretty dire staffing situation right now,” said Ari Levine, legal counsel for the city.

The city has also been steadily increasing the size of the force in recent years, adding at least seven new officer positions since 2020.

Acting Mayor Laura Lewis and city Human Resources Director Schelley Michell-Nunn said sweetening the deal for cops willing to transfer to Ithaca could help the city hire more diverse candidates.

Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows 71% of existing local law enforcement officers across the country are white. Law enforcement agencies in smaller communities, like those around Ithaca, tend to have an even higher percentage of white officers on duty.