Tompkins County district attorney: Ithaca’s police reform working group refused his input

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Van Houten said the police reform effort required more cooperation in order to "get it right." (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The Tompkins County district attorney said he has concerns about Ithaca’s plans to reform public safety.

In a statement released late Wednesday, District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said the Reimagining Public Safety working group rejected his input when it put together its list of recommendations.

As a result, he said the group, which is comprised of both civilians and police officers, lacked full understanding of Ithaca’s existing criminal justice system.

“Without an understanding of the interaction between the courts, the Ithaca Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office, a vital part of the equation is missing,” Van Houten said in the statement.

Van Houten said he supports many of the suggested reforms. But he said he has concerns the plan, if enacted, could jeopardize criminal investigations and public safety.

Van Houten said some of the suggestions don’t go far enough. For instance, he’d like to see additional training for other emergency workers like dispatchers, not just police officers.

He also had concerns about whether the five new unarmed officers would be trained in proper evidence collection in cases involving sexual assault. The report does not specifically call for unarmed officers to respond to sex offense cases, which would be assigned to either armed or unarmed responders on a case-by-case basis.

Van Houten said that serious criminal justice reform would require considering all stakeholder perspectives, including his own.

The DA’s office released the statement just hours before a particularly contentious meeting of the Ithaca Common Council, during which residents voiced their opinions on the police reform plan.

The Council did not address Van Houten’s statement in depth during its meeting.

Read Van Houten’s full statement here.