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Plan to revamp police force, add unarmed units proceeds in NY town

Under the proposed plan, the Ithaca Police Department would be split into armed and unarmed divisions

ithaca police department

This Monday, March 22, 2021 photo shows the Ithaca Police Department headquarters in Ithaca, N.Y.

AP Photo/John Munson

By Associated Press

ITHACA, N.Y. — Officials in an Ivy League town in upstate New York voted to proceed with a hotly debated plan to revamp the police force as part of the nationwide reexamination of law enforcement after the killing of George Floyd.

The Ithaca Common Council unanimously approved a series of reform recommendations Wednesday night that included reconstituting the city police force to add unarmed officers to handle nonviolent calls like petty thefts.

The Finger Lakes city, home to Cornell University, is among hundreds of municipalities across New York directed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year to submit a police reform plan by Thursday or risk a loss of state funding.

The newly approved resolution calls for a task force to design how the new department would work. A report is due Sept. 1. The council would have to vote on additional legislation at that time and the measure could ultimately have to go to a city-wide referendum before approval, WSKG reported.

Armed officers of the 63-officer force would be able to keep their positions, and supporters of the plan said the new unarmed officers would be able to engage more with communities distrustful of police.

“That’s what the hope is, is that we’re taking this moment to really hit the reset and build something, a new something, again, built for our community and not enhancing a system that frankly there isn’t much trust in,” said Councilor Stephen Smith.

The proposal led to weeks of debate in Ithaca. Many police officers said it could threaten public safety, while some social justice activists dismissed it as a mere rebranding of the police that would do little to help Black communities.