Call to action on police community relations in Ithaca:Matt's Memo

When you're the mayor of a small Upstate New York city and you've been invited to the White House five times in two or three years it's easy to attract the political fast track label. Svante Myrick could be caught up in the attention and status that comes with trips to D.C. to discuss big picture issues for the country. Or, the mayor of Ithaca could take on specific, local challenges in his home community and find ways to help people who elected him to serve. That's the route Myrick is taking in dealing with the latest crisis.

Mayor Myrick is dealing swiftly with concern in the community that an Ithaca police sergeant may have been too quick to draw his weapon when being called in from an off duty status earlier this month. The sergeant was in plain clothes when he helped patrol officers that had concerns about a string of crimes. The teens who were stopped by the sergeant are black. He is white. Some allegations were raised of a racial element in his decision making.

The mayor and his police chief conducted an internal review of what happened the night of August 9th. They established a timeline of facts based on records, recordings and interviews with officers involved. The teens who were stopped did not participate. The mayor released the findings publicly just over two weeks after the incident. Out of those findings he has crafted and agenda to improve police community relations and bring technology into the department.

The mayor is proposing all the officers be equipped with body cameras to record all of their actions when responding to calls. This new digital technology is creating a 'black box' type record of police activity at departments who have found room in the budget to make the purchase. The recordings ultimately can protect the public from officers who go too far and also protect officers from false allegations.

The mayor's plan also includes other pieces like requiring new hires to reside within the city limits, opening community outreach centers and increasing police staffing by ten percent. His proposals are macro and micro getting down in one case to the detail of what an off duty or plain clothes officer should where to clearly identify himself as a police officer.

It's unlikely the full plan will become reality. That's the nature of broad sweeping proposals. But, the call to action is to be commended. So is the willingness to borrow good ideas from other communities facing similar struggles. Those are signs of leadership skills that are growing right alongside the fast track reputation.


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