So Far, Tompkins Residents Skeptical Of Police Reform Initiative

More

Updated: 12/14/20 – 2:09 P.M.

ITHACA, N.Y., (WSKG) 一 The community discussion period for Ithaca’s “Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative” ended last weekend with two public forums. Now it moves to the next phase.

Friday and Saturday’s public forums were the final installments in a series of “Community Voices Public Forums,” conducted weekly since early November. The meetings were held virtually via Zoom, and were led by Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick and Tompkins County Commissioner Jason Molino.*

The forums were the initial phase outlined in the timeline of Ithaca’s “Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative.”  It’s a joint initiative between Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca. Their purpose, according to the Tompkins County Government, was to provide residents with an opportunity “to share perspectives and visions for reimagining public safety.” Ultimately, feedback from these meetings is meant to be recorded and shared with working groups designing a plan for local police reform.

The “Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative” was established earlier this year following an Executive Order from Governor Cuomo in June. The order requires all New York State municipalities with a police department to adopt a plan for police reform by April 1st, 2021 in order to be eligible for state funding. This applies to over 500 jurisdictions.

Governor Cuomo’s announcement was accompanied by a document entitled “New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative,” which offers guidance and resources for public officials and citizens on the design of a police reform plan. The state guidance emphasizes a “collaborative” approach between police departments, community officials, and citizens. One of the steps outlined in this approach is to “involve the entire community in the discussion.”

Overall, most community members attending these forums expressed a desire for major changes to policing.

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio

Protesters outside the Ithaca Police Department kneeling for 8 minutes 45 seconds during a protest against police brutality and the killing of George Floyd. June 3, 2020 (Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio)

“The feedback we have been getting has been overwhelmingly in favor of some radical change, mostly in terms of reducing the amount of armed law enforcement,” said Ducson Nguyen, who’s an alderperson for Ithaca’s second ward.

Notably, citizens attending these forums shared consistent criticism of the way  they are designed. Officials were not permitted to answer questions or offer comments on specific policy development.

Ithaca resident Monique Caraballo expressed frustration with this policy, as well as with the livestream’s chat feature.

“I find these forums to be performative. You have your diversity officer tone policing in the chat, you have it locked down so that we are not able to warn marginalized folks, people who have been marginalized in the community and continue to be marginalized in this community, of people who wish them harm here, and their intentions here in these forums.” said Caraballo.

“I look forward to this becoming an actual discussion, where our questions are answered, where we have actual talks about how we can imagine public safety because this ain’t it.”

Other people voiced doubts about the tangible incorporation of public feedback into the policies being developed.  They cite disappointment with decisions surrounding policing in the Ithaca City Budget, which released earlier this summer.

“You guys went through the process of asking for people’s input and making people feel heard, and then that input wasn’t reflected back in any of the city’s presentation of budget stuff and at least from what I can see it wasn’t reflected in the way that the final budget came out. And I just don’t understand why we should think this process should be any different,” said activist Genevieve Rand.

She also shared concerns regarding the lack of community representation in the upcoming working groups, as well as the close collaboration with local law enforcement which has been a hallmark of the “reimagining” initiative.

The working groups, which make up the next stage outlined in the strategy, are a coalition of community leaders, county and city officials, law enforcement officers, and other administrators at the city and county levels. They are tasked with assessing the viability of suggestions offered over the past five weeks.

Most of the speakers in last weekend’s forum doubt the effectiveness of the initiative. Leon Miller-Out is skeptical the process can realistically fulfill its lofty goals.

“I would love to see the outcome of this process actually be a reimagining of public safety, that’s a great name for what I think we need to achieve, and it’s never happened before, and, like everyone else who’s spoken recently, I’m very skeptical that it’s going to happen this time.”

Miller-Out went on to raise concerns about the people these public forums may not be reaching.  He says they include poor people who suffer in interactions with the police, people with mental health issues, people with addiction issues, and people of color.

Both Mayor Myrick and Commissioner Molino informed attendees the forums are just one component of ongoing community outreach efforts, though plans are not specified.

Comments submitted during the process will be offered in a town hall meeting set for this afternoon 4:00 pm, along with an Q&A session and discussion of next steps. Mayor Myrick, Commissioner Molino, Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne* and Police Chief Nayor are set to host.

*An earlier version of this story called the Tompkins County Commission Joe Molino. His first name is Jason.

**An earlier version of this story titled Derek Osborne Sergeant. He is Tompkins County Sheriff.