The entire “abolish the police” movement has pretty much failed in spectacular fashion in terms of actually attracting any high-profile support around the nation. Even President Biden reiterated that he doesn’t support the idea during his recent town hall on CNN. There has been plenty of defunding going on, frequently with very bad results, but the idea of completely reimaging an America without cops has been a political loser. But that’s not entirely true everywhere. The folks at GQ Magazine this week were pretty excited to break the news about one city in New York State that’s going whole hog for the idea. The Mayor of Ithaca, New York is preparing to remove and replace his entire police department, installing something called a “Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety” in its place. But as we’ll see in a moment, things might not be quite as revolutionary as the headline makes it sound.
Yet even as mainstream political operatives have declared the concept a political loser—just last week President Biden reiterated his opposition to defunding during a CNN town hall—a handful of cities have significantly reexamined the role of their police. In Berkeley, Ca., armed officers no longer conduct traffic stops or respond to mental health and homelessness calls. Portland ended the deployment of “school resource officers,” long linked to the criminalization of Black and brown youth and the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.
And now, in a proposal announced today, the mayor of Ithaca, NY will attempt the most radical reimagining of policing in the post-George Floyd era so far: abolishing the city’s police department as currently constructed and replacing it with a reimagined city agency.
The new Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety certainly sounds like a horse of a different color, but is it?
The first thing to know about Ithaca, a city I have visited hundreds of times over the years, is that the word “city” is used rather generously. It’s a college town built around Cornell University and it has a population of barely 30,000 when college classes are taking place. They do register some crimes there, but it’s primarily property crime. The violent crime rate in Ithaca is less than half of that of New York State as a whole and it’s a children’s tea party compared to the rougher neighborhoods in New York City.
That explains why the Mayor of Ithaca doesn’t have much dismantling to do in terms of the police department. They have a grand total of 63 cops to cover all shits and a budget of just over $12 million.
As to the abolishment action, that’s a pretty deceptive description. On paper, the Mayor is going to “eliminate” the Ithaca Police Department, but it’s immediately being replaced by this “new” entity, and the existing police will be allowed to reapply for their old jobs with the title of “public safety workers” (who happen to be armed). Some of them will be diverted to unarmed duty, taking the title of “community solution workers.” The one significant change will be that all of them will report to a civilian “Director of Public Safety” rather than a Chief of Police.
Putting civilians with no experience in law enforcement in charge of a police force (whatever you choose to call it) hasn’t worked out well in other places where it’s been tried. I don’t expect it will be that successful in Ithaca either. And the first time one of these unarmed “community solution workers” finds themselves running up against an actual bad guy with some firepower, I’m guessing you’re going to be hearing some demands for the cops to come riding back to the rescue.
But hey… Mayor Svante Myrick will probably be getting invited to appear on CNN and MSNBC, along with all of the usual liberal outlets. He’ll be toasted as a true progressive who is finding ways to “fix our police state” and put an end to violent police assaults on peaceful protesters or whatever. Best of luck to him.