GUEST APPEARANCE: Ithaca mayor responds to gun violence, identifies ways City will act

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Responding to gun violence in the city of Ithaca

– Svante Myrick, Ithaca Mayor

Recently there have been a cluster of reported gunshots in our city. The investigation is ongoing, but it appears that a couple of extremely irresponsible people engaged in a personal dispute are intent on shooting each other. This is obviously stupid, reckless, and terrifying – and Ithacans deserve to live without the fear or being caught in a crossfire.

Gun violence is unacceptable. The ease of access to guns in America, the fraying of social bonds, and the stress of an unequal economy – has led to a rise in gun violence across our country at epidemic levels.

There is not any one single solution that will end gun violence – but we believe that an “all of the above” comprehensive approach to gun violence is the best. That comprehensive approach includes prevention through social investment, smart targeted law enforcement, and better infrastructure.

To that end the city will be taking the following actions:

PREVENTION THROUGH SOCIAL INVESTMENT

Too often, crimes are the result of people being left without their basic economic and social needs being met. If we are going to prevent violent crimes, we need to invest in solving the root causes of crime.

The city will be working with their departments and external partners to help meet the basic needs of the residents. We are maintaining and increasing our investments in Greater Ithaca Activity Center (which crucially includes the teen program, and My Brother’s Keeper), the Ithaca Youth Bureau (which houses such vital programs as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Youth Employment Services), and Southside Community Center, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, Black Hands Universal, Unbroken Promises Initiative and REACH- to name just a few partners.

SMART TARGETED ENFORCEMENT

The Acting Chief is directing available resources, and recruiting assistance from the New York State Police, to assist in a special gun violence suppression detail in areas of the city. We believe this will pay dividends and help us get those who have committed gun violence off the streets.

We believe that we need to expand our law enforcement options – and are moving expeditiously to the launch of our Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.  LEAD is a community-based diversion approach with the goals of improving public safety and public order.

A working group, led by Eric Rosario and Karen Yearwood are also continuing to design our new Public Safety Department in accordance with the goals of the approved Reimagining Public Safety Plan. That new department will expand our capabilities by adding unarmed staff that can respond to non-violent calls. That will not only expand our community engagement and build more trust with our community, but it will free our existing officers to focus on preventing gun crime. 

BUILDING A SAFER CITY THROUGH SAFER INFRASTRUCTURE

We believe that the built environment helps shape behavior. That starts with better lighting. We’ve already begun by repairing broken streetlights and identifying dark spots that could benefit from improved lighting.

We are also working with private property owners to improve their lights, cameras, and property management – with a focus on the largest developments.  Improvements in camera technology can also help us deter gun crime and solve the gun crimes that do happen. We are continuing to invest in this technology to keep Ithaca as safe as possible.

COMBATING MISINFORMATION

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that nearly every day the police union’s PR firm issues a press release framed in the scariest possible language.  And that is of course their intent – if they can use scare tactics to draw a correlation between police reform and crime, they can sway public opinion and convince the community to drop our planned reforms.

Our reform plan is clear, it will not increase crime. It will improve public safety. Our plan is to improve officer wellness and officer training – this will not increase crime.

Our plan is to improve officer accountability and make it easier to remove bad apples – this will not increase crime.

Our plan is to add unarmed responders to the routine tasks of issuing parking tickets, directing traffic around car accidents, and taking reports on stolen items – this will not increase crime.

Our plan is to deploy mental health professionals in partnership with law enforcement to assist those in crisis – this will not increase crime.

Our plan will free up our armed officers from those non-violent calls for service to focus on preventing gun violence – this will not increase crime.

Police reform does not lead to a rise in crime.

And you don’t have to take my word for it. The pandemic has led to a rise in gun violence – and that rise has been the same across the country. In communities led by Democrats and in communities led by Republicans. In communities that cut their police budgets and in communities that increased their police budgets.  That should tell us something. That this issue is more complicated. That police reforms are not a boogeyman – and that solving gun violence requires the kind of comprehensive “all of the above” solution that we are proposing above.

For example, number of officers has decreased from 69 to 63 in the last decade but – despite the hyperbolic fear mongering – the truth is that the crime rate in Ithaca is much lower than it was a decade ago.

And while violence can happen anywhere, the violent crime rate in Ithaca is much lower than the national average.

But any amount of violence is unacceptable. So, we are ignoring the finger blaming and the politics to ask for your help. We need your information, and we need your ideas to end gun violence.

If you have ideas about how we can enhance our comprehensive approach to ending gun violence, please reach out to share with us at [email protected] If you have any information that could help us solve or prevent a crime, please let us know. You can do that anonymously if you choose through the Ithaca Police Department’s tipline here.


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