ITHACA (TNS) — The Ithaca mayor’s proposal to replace the police department with a new model for public safety is dangerous, ill-conceived and political, union leaders said at a fiery news conference Friday.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick last week announced a plan to create a new Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety, composed of two divisions: One an unarmed force of “community solution workers” and the other an armed unit of “public safety workers” who respond to and investigate crimes.
The proposal received national attention as one of the most radical proposals from a public official to address nationwide cries to change policing and end police brutality. Ithaca was among cities nationwide that saw large protests following the death of George Floyd in May in Minneapolis.
The proposal would install a civilian executive director atop the new department, rather than a police chief. The 98-page proposal acknowledges that some 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. Current officers would have to reapply to keep their jobs as “public safety workers.”
Myrick, in announcing the proposal, said he arrived at the idea as a result of community dialogues, meetings and protests over the last several months and years.
But police leaders at the news conference sharply criticized the mayor, saying the police department was not meaningfully included in devising the idea.
“Key stakeholders have been left out,” said Thomas Condzella, the leader of the Ithaca’s Police Benevolent Association. “Those stakeholders are the police. We are experienced professionals.”
The mayor gave an interview to GQ that announced the proposal, which blindsided some police department members, according to Condzella. The mayor later apologized for that, according to 14580.com.
Conzella said the mayor is taking a gamble on the safety of the police and the community they serve. He suggested the mayor is deliberately hamstringing the police department to help his case that the department needs to be replaced.
“Violent crime in the city of Ithaca is steadily rising. However, our ability to address it is decreasing by the day, almost as if by design, to further this proposal,” he said.
Joining Condzella at a news conference Friday were leaders of other police unions in the area, like Joseph Moran at the Syracuse Police Department, and the president of the state union of police associations. Members of other labor unions were also in attendance.
Condzella called the proposal, among other things, an “underhanded attempt to bust the union.”
The mayor’s proposal is a response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate for cities across the state to develop plans for police reform. But union leaders say the plan goes way too far.
The governor’s reform mandate is being “used to implement changes that are unnecessary, unprecedented and likely extremely dangerous,” Condzella said.
He called on the Ithaca city council to “show leadership” in not allowing the proposal to go further. If it does, he warned, police and residents of Ithaca would be the subjects of a potentially dangerous experiment.
“Are you willing to test this new public safety model on your employees and your constituents when actual lives hang in the balance?” he asked.