Ithaca’s mayor wants to abolish police department, apologizes to officers for telling GQ first

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ITHACA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — In what could be the most progressive reform in the United States, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick has developed a plan that abolishes the city’s police department.

The plan, which Mayor Myrick unveiled to GQ Monday, replaces the current police force with an agency made up of armed “public safety workers” and unarmed “community solution workers,” which dispatches certain calls to people trained in mental health.

In the plan posted online, Myrick writes: “What the report finds is both a deep appreciation for the current officers and a compelling case that we need an even better, ​transformed​ system. We need our public safety officers to better represent the diversity of the community, be better equipped to de-escalate conflict, and be better able to connect people in crisis with social services.”

Myrick, who says he couldn’t fit NewsChannel 9 into his schedule for an interview on Tuesday, later emailed his police force about unveiling the plan in GQ.

In the email, obtained by NewsChannel 9, Myrick wrote: ‪“I know my serious errors in the rollout of this plan will negatively affect the chances of it being successful. I hope that in time you can look past my mistakes to see the good smart work that so many people did to make the report.”‬

The officers will need to re-apply for jobs within the new agency and answer to a civilian executive director instead of a police chief.

In an interview with NewsChannel, the current but retiring police chief says. “I did not know it was going to be anything so sweeping and radical.”

Chief Dennis Nayor said he wanted to be careful not to get into a public disagreement with the mayor but instead wanted to focus on defending the work of his department which he hopes isn’t abolished.

Nayor considers his agency progressive in terms of the training, hiring, and de-escalation themes the plan pushes for. He doesn’t dismiss the need for further reform and a better allocation of resources when it comes to mental health-related emergencies.

“We all agree that we would rather see other people dealing with those calls, mental health clinicians, social workers. We do a lot because there is no one else to do them. We become the catch-all for everything that goes on,” says the chief.

The city police plan is part of a bitter city-county plan established between the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County to meet the governor’s order that local governments need to study their policing strategies or forfeit state funding.

Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molina deferred to Myrick on the future of the city police department, but as a partner in the overall project, was willing to discuss the county’s vision.

Molina tells NewsChannel what his studies show is the biggest issue with local police. He says, “Trust seems to be the primary issue. People want to self-police instead of calling law enforcement agencies.”

While “defund the police” has become the slogan of these kinds of movements nationwide, Molina argues the plan calls for more resources better assigned.

“This was not about eliminating law enforcement, but the opposite. Continuing the resource and adding resources that invest in the health and human services side of things,” he tells NewsChannel 9.

The county would take control of Ithaca Police’s SWAT vehicle, but assign it to the emergency management office instead of the county sheriff. Molina hopes to use it as a command unit that helps deal with a variety of emergencies.

Tompkins County also oversees 911 dispatch, which would support Ithaca’s new community policing agency in the critical role of getting the right information over the phone to determine what kind of resources to dispatch.

The Ithaca Common Council needs to approve the city’s plan. The Tompkins County Legislature will consider the county plan.

Public input was solicited through targeted groups to develop the draft plan. Now, designers want to hear from the general public about what’s been developed.

The first forum will be held Thursday at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom. Registration is required online.

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