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Tompkins County: Unarmed officer pilot program aims to improve police-community ties (video)

  • / Updated:
  • Megan Hatch 

Public safety in the city of Ithaca and Tompkins County might improve in the next year through the Reimagining Public Safety Collaborative.

The collaborative has been developing multiple programs, including its most recent one, the Unarmed Pilot Program, which will test unarmed police responses to non-emergency situations.

Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office to test unarmed officer response (video)

How the unarmed pilot program came to be

The Reimagining Public Safety idea came about when former Governor Cuomo announced Executive Order #203 which included NYS police reform and reinvention.

The executive order was put into play to help build and foster better relationships with marginalized populations and BIPOC communities after the shooting of George Floyd in early 2020.

Tompkins County got to work reimaging its police force and came up with the idea to create an unarmed response division. On June 23,  Sheriff clerks Sam Pulliam and Tara Richardson were hired for the Unarmed Pilot Program. The three-year program will be reviewed after the first year. If the program is a success, the number of Sheriff’s clerks may increase.

Commercial burglary under investigation in Tompkins County

Sheriff’s Office building relationships with BIPOC in Tompkins County

Monalita Smiley, project director of the Community Justice Center, explained that the Unarmed Pilot Program is a start and will help diversity as BIPOC will be able to see people that resemble them and therefore it will bring a sense of community into the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office.

“I think there are aspects of the entire initiative that will help build trust. There’s a community healing aspect. That’s one of the recommendations, to bring the BIPOC black and brown and minoritized community members together with law enforcement is the end goal. To start building and working on relationships where the trust is reestablished”

Dominick Recckio, the communications director for Tompkins County, explained that there are currently 20 plans involved in the Reimagining Public Safety Committee.

“Some of those are specific with the city of Ithaca, some specific with Tompkins County. A majority of them are joint plans between the two. The program that the sheriff’s office just kicked off is one of the Tompkins County-specific plans.”

Tompkins County will test unarmed response from law enforcement to select incidents

Undersheriff predicts July 5 as potential launch date

The calls the Sheriff’s clerk would take on are non-emergency incidents, like a deer accident, larceny without a suspect or noise complaints. They would handle the situation via telecommunications through the Sheriff’s Office.

“The second piece is to free up some of the time that our deputies would have otherwise been spending, doing these types of calls, they’ll be freeing up that time so that those individuals can have more time for really pressing issues or investigations or other things of that nature,” said Reckkio.

Undersheriff Jennifer Olin said that the Sheriff’s Office is concentrating on getting the program up and running for a target launch date of July 5, 2022.