Residents have the opportunity to learn about police activities
From Feb. 25 to April 15, the Ithaca Police Department will host its first-ever Citizens Police Academy, a decision that has piqued the interest of Ithaca activists who want more involvement between the community members and the IPD.
Jamie Williamson, public information officer of the IPD, said the eight three-hour classes will be “a combination of lecture and interactive activities” regarding the department’s functions, resources and programs, with the intention of creating more awareness and dialogue between the police and the greater Ithaca area.
“The goal of the eight-week-long IPD Citizens Police Academy is to create a better understanding of the daily activities of police officers who serve in the Ithaca community, to strengthen the relationships with the community and the officers, and to enhance the police services that are provided to the Ithaca community,” Williamson said. “These goals will ultimately help police officers to create a safer community in which to live, work and grow.”
The classes will be led by certified police instructors from the IPD, Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department and Cornell University Police Department. The IPD will be accepting 20 applicants.
In the wake of numerous cases of police violence toward unarmed citizens of color over the past year, dialogue about race relations in the United States has increased, particularly in regard to the people of law enforcement and predominantly black communities. In response to this, Mayor Svante Myrick issued an eight-point plan for “Excellence in Policing,” a policy for department reform that includes implementations like cameras on police vehicles, an increase in police staffing and “improved community outreach programming.”
If the mayor’s plan is carried out in full, Myrick said it “will greatly enhance the ability of the Ithaca Police Department to deliver high quality, community oriented services.”
Although most efforts by U.S. police departments to pacify the situation have resulted in animosity from many black communities, some departments have made efforts to create more transparency in order to encourage better police-community cooperation.
Ithaca is not the first city to launch classes such as these; the New York Police Department implemented a CPA program in 1993, and it has been running biannually ever since. Other CPA classes are run in most states across the country.
Tyrell Stewart-Harris, predoctoral diversity fellow in the writing department at Ithaca College, worked as an ethnographer, studying inner-community behavior and local government changes in the diverse yet heavily segregated Oak Park, Illinois.
Stewart-Harris said whether or not the CPA is an effective means of integrating the community with the IPD, it is nevertheless a common and effective method of convincing locals of the department’s increased community engagement.
“These are very general governance policies,” Stewart-Harris said. “You invite people into the government, and you give them something to do, they feel like they had something to do whether or not they did, and they share that information with the community. It’s a very common way to get people on the side of public policy changes.”
Lynne Jackier, local civil rights activist and blogger, said she will be taking part in the CPA in order to participate in the IPD’s effort toward community policing, a practice characterized by a police force in close contact with the everyday citizens in the district.
“This is something being offered by the police department as a way for community members to learn about how the police department functions,” Jackier said. “I feel like I need to know more before I can be helpful.”
Audrey Cooper, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, a nonprofit organization in Ithaca that brings awareness to social issues pertaining to race and diversity. Cooper said the CPA does not address the full scope of community involvement, they having no reciprocal means of communicating with officers who for the most part live outside of city lines.
“I understand police have a job to do, I understand that at times it can be pretty scary and unnerving,” Cooper said. “But for some of us, also working and living in the community, seeing the way certain situations are handled by police can also be scary.”
Jackier also said, the IPD would also benefit from knowledge about the community to further their relationship with individuals in town.
“I think there needs to be a sister program that helps police learn about communities in our town,” Jackier said. “Especially communities that carry a lot of anger and mistrust of police in general, there are reasons for that. There are things that happened to these people in their lives, and police officers need to learn about that.”
Tylor Colby is a junior writing major who knows what it takes to defend the city. You can email him at [email protected].