Activists Say Police Reforms Shouldn’t Wait Until 2021. One Sheriff Agrees.

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TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) – Calls to reform or defund law enforcement continue in Tompkins County. A task force created by Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick will make recommendations next April.

In the meantime, residents have held weekly protests and marches through downtown. They recently agreed on a letter listing demands for reform. It was written by Jordan Clemons, who has led weekly protests for a month.

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio

Ithaca resident and activist, Jordan Clemons leading a recent protest in front of the Ithaca Police Department. (Celia Clarke/WSKG)

“I understand that it takes time. We gotta be somewhat patient even though they’re well overdue, we’re well overdue to have justice and equality. But these systems that are in place it takes a lot of time, the process,” Clemons said.

Clemons said the specific demands in his letter are the result of conversations he’s had with current and former members of the police force. He said they could happen quickly if leaders want to take action, but he hasn’t gotten a reply yet.

Anne Rhodes is with another anti-racism group in Tompkins County, Showing Up for Racial Justice. Like Clemons, she thinks Myrick could order some changes quickly.

“It’s not like we don’t know what needs to be done. He could make a list of things that needed to be done and start putting them in place,” she said. “He does not need a task force.”

Myrick wasn’t available for an interview. Meanwhile, Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne partially agrees with Rhodes and others calling for faster reforms.

“I don’t want it to take a year either and you said it, the community wants immediate action and I think they deserve to have it,” Osborne said.

He said the first step toward change is to hear from residents.

“Because it’s not going to help anybody and it’s not going to make anybody in the community feel better if, you know, law enforcement itself is doing what they think they should do,” he said.

Osborne recognizes that efforts to defund the police might mean different things to activists and to law enforcement.

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio

Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne (Celia Clarke/WSKG)

“What I consider when people say ‘defund the police’ is, ok an example would be instead of law enforcement going to this call social services is going go. That’s all fine and good but something’s going to be done so people aren’t calling us on those complaints,” he said.

For all the planning and protests, defunding might be forced by budget cuts resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Osborne said the Tompkins County administrator has already told him to prepare a 2021 budget with a 12 percent cut.

The sheriff said making cuts, if they should be necessary, will not be easy. The population of Tompkins County has grown over 10 percent in the past 30 years. In that time, the sheriff’s department has added two more road patrol deputies.

In the meantime, Osborne said the department is hosting its second de-escalation training this year, scheduled for October. It’s opened to other law enforcement in the region. Registration for that is almost filled.