Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick has announced a plan to replace the city’s police department with a new Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety.
The proposal, part of a statewide police reform effort, is now up for public comment and requires legislative approval. If passed, the city would install a civilian department leader to oversee two divisions, an unarmed force of “community solution workers,” and an armed division focused on responding to and investigating crimes.
Officers would have to reapply to keep jobs as armed “public safety workers” with the city.
The proposal acknowledges that in some ways, the measures would “defund the police,” but ultimately, just as much of the city’s funding and resources, if not more, would go toward public safety.
The proposal calls for the city to reallocate the police department’s $12.5 million budget — which includes 63 sworn officers — but would not reduce overall funding.
Myrick said in a statement this week the proposal was the result of a community dialogues, in meetings and protests especially over the last several months and years.
“The men and women of the Ithaca Police Department have performed their duties with admirable skill and professionalism, but for too long the answer to every human behavioral problem in our City has been to call the police,” Myrick said.
He called that practice “impractical” and “cumbersome,” and said it exacerbates homelessness, mental illness and addiction.
Myrick unveiled Ithaca’s plan in a 98-page draft report, that also covers police reform efforts in surrounding Tompkins County.
The reforms are part of a statewide reform effort authorized by executive order last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Police departments across New York state are required to develop reform and “reinvention” plans by April 1 if they wish to retain state funding.
While the proposal covers reform efforts in all of Tompkins County, the county has no plans to eliminate its police department, the sheriff’s office, or require town or village departments to disband. Instead, the county will undertake several other reform efforts including training, and a “pilot program” for responding to non-emergency calls.
Tompkins County and Ithaca worked with the Center for Policing Equity, a national research center, on its reform plans.
In a magazine article, GQ called the Ithaca’s plan the “most ambitious effort yet to reform policing.”
Myrick himself has not been shy about radical ideas. In a biography posted on the city’s website, Myrick touts “overhauls” of city government, communications strategies and storm water utilities as successes of his administration. In 2016, he announced he wanted to make Ithaca the first city with a “supervised injection facility,” a place for people with opioid addiction to use heroin in the presence of a nurse.
Myrick is Ithaca’s first Black mayor and was the youngest mayor elected in New York state when he first won election in 2011.
Many cities across the country, including Minneapolis, Baltimore and Portland, have taken steps toward defunding or disbanding their police departments in recent years, especially after George Floyd was killed during an arrest by police officers in Minneapolis last May. Camden, N.J. dissolved its police department in 2013.
Tompkins County posted its entire police reform plan and a space for public comment on its website.