The City of Ithaca has been looking for a permanent Chief of Police to help improve community engagement and transparency and follow through on the reimagining public safety process for more than a year, and it looks like the search is almost coming to an end. The current acting Chief of Police at the Ithaca Police Department, John Joly, was the first candidate for the city's Chief of Police position to answer questions from the public at the police chief community forum which took place on October 17 at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.
This was the first in a series of three community forums where the public will have the opportunity to hear from the three finalists for the Ithaca Police Department's Chief of Police position. The upcoming forums will be held on Monday October 24th, and Tuesday October 25th — both will begin at 6 p.m. Former Ithaca Police officer Lt. Scott Garin and current Binghamton Police Department Lieutenant Christopher Bracco are the two other finalists.
During the community forum, acting chief Joly answered questions regarding his performance as acting chief of police, and explained steps IPD is taking to improve community engagement and transparency while working to follow through on the goals of the reimagining public safety process — which has been a subject of local controversy.
Joly said that he was the best candidate for the position because of his “broad professional experience” gained from working in a department of roughly 16,150 officers in Atlanta, as well as from being in Ithaca for over 17 years and “working in almost every position within the department.”
According to Joly, “I've worked patrol and all three shifts as an officer. I've supervised all three shifts as a sergeant, and as a lieutenant at different times. I was elected as union president for over seven years.” He continued saying, “even though I continued to successfully promote within the department to the rank of sergeant, I was still elected by my peers as the union president. I think that speaks to the fact that they all felt confident that I would be able to adequately represent them fairly even though I was involved.”
Police unions are known to be the power centers of many police departments and have a tendency to prioritize the rights of police officers over the rights of the public, so Joly’s time as President of a police union should be a bit concerning for those interested in accountability and transparency. However, Joly also said that his supervisory role at IPD which involved looking into complaints, holding people accountable and ensuring that officers were meeting the goals of the department has given him more insight into what it would take to be a successful police chief.
When asked to explain what alternative practices he has seen for preventing and reducing crime, Joly responded saying that increasing investments in technology to cover staffing shortages, along with increasing community engagement and transparency have been the department's main strategies.
During the community forum Joly said that IPD became disengaged from the community following the murder of George Floyd and officer morale suffered as a result. According to Joly, “we lost connections to our community, and it became really evident after the death of George Floyd that we had not done a good enough job.”
Joly said that IPD has taken steps to increase community engagement by participating in events with community organizations such as GIAC and taking steps to increase workforce diversity. According to Joly, “We at IPD need to get more involved in GIAC, the school's youth bureau. We need to have positive interactions on a regular basis with the youth of our community so that we can build back that trust.”
He continued saying, “people in our community want the department to reflect the community. People want to feel comfortable, they want to feel safe and they want to be able to find a representative in IPD that they can feel comfortable approaching.” He continued saying, “if we’re all white males that’s not comfortable to people, and we need to be more reflective. We need more diverse officers and support staff.”
The department has seen some success in increasing community engagement through IPD’s liaison program, but they have continued to struggle with hiring a more diverse workforce, likely as a result of ongoing staffing shortages and systemic barriers that make it more difficult for people of color to get the job.
Joly says that some of these barriers include residency requirements and fees that are required in order to take the test to become a police officer. The county doesn’t require these fees, but the city of Ithaca does. However, Joly said that “city civil service has been able to reduce that for this coming year and also removed residency requirements for the remainder of 2023,” so IPD hopes more applicants will take advantage of these changes in the upcoming year.
The department has also taken steps to increase transparency by creating an online community dashboard where the public can see how many calls IPD responds to, where they are located and what the call type is.
In response to questions regarding transparency, Joly said “I think transparency, both internally and externally for the department is key. We have to explain to the officers what it is we’re doing, where we’re going, be clear about the mission and what the goals and expectations are.” He continued saying, “but right now we’re doing the best we can with the staff we have.”
When asked how he expects to collaborate with the city's new Deputy Chief of Staff of Public Safety — who will oversee the reimagining process — Joly said, “I’ll take all the help I can get at this point. We don’t know exactly what the people that will work for that person will do or how they will interact with IPD, but there’s plenty of work to go around and I will collaborate with anyone and take whatever help I can get.”
While he is open to collaborating with the city on the reimagining process, Joly explained that the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association (PBA) is likely going to have an issue with unarmed responders overseen by the deputy chief of staff of public safety responding to calls that would otherwise be taken by traditional officers.
According to Joly, “The PBA will have to compromise and the city will have to negotiate for any of the duties that the PBA currently covers in order for those to be given to someone else. And then in turn, there will have to be negotiations with CSEA, or whatever union covers those duties now.” He continued saying, “realistically, I don’t see that happening anytime soon because I think it will get tied up in litigation.” However, Joly said that some of the gaps that unarmed responders can help fill right away are for calls related to crisis intervention or victim services.
Regarding the cities search for a new Chief of Police, former Mayor Svante Myrick has said that he would like to see the city hire a police chief with a “demonstrated commitment to the kinds of policing that keeps the community safe by making every person in the community feel like the police department's on their side.”
He said that the search committee should look for candidates that have “a strong and demonstrated ability to work with minoritized communities and let them know that our public safety system works for them too.”
Alderperson Phoebe Brown, who represents Ithaca’s 2nd Ward on the Common Council, said that the city needs a police chief who is “very knowledgeable about the diverse communities: someone who’s been on the ground and is really familiar with grassroots organizing. Someone who understands what this climate of policing has been throughout the county and will now prioritize the necessity of making sure that we are acknowledging the concerns of Black and Brown communities and LGBTQ communities. Someone who has been a champion of the people.”
The upcoming Chief of Police community forums will take place on October 24 with Investigator and former Police Caption with the Binghamton Police Department, Christopher Bracco, and on October 25 with retired IPD Lieutenant Scott Garin.