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Reimagining Public Safety: A Call to Action Statement by the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission

This statement has been published by the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission

The   purpose   of   the   Tompkins   County   Human   Rights   Commission   is   to   “foster understanding and respect among all persons in Tompkins County, to encourage equality, discourage  discrimination,  and  to  serve  as  an  Advisory  Board  to  the  Office  of  Human Rights and to the Tompkins County Legislature.”

In line with that purpose, we have examined and discussed the Reimagining Public Safety Working Group’s final recommendation regarding the creation of a new Department of Community Safety in the City of Ithaca, with civilian leadership. Although we have no formal role in advising the City, we recognize that all County residents are potentially impacted by the City of Ithaca’s policing practices, and we would like to go on record in support of this recommendation by the Working Group.

We  believe  that  citizens  throughout  Tompkins  County  will  benefit  from  the  proposed reorganization plan for the following reasons:

• As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3, everyone has the right to security of person. The current situation is that people of color and other marginalized groups in Tompkins County often do not experience the same level of security enjoyed by  white  people  and other  privileged  groups  in  their  interactions  with  local  law enforcement.

•  The  Reimagining  Public  Safety  (RPS)  collaborative  has  very  carefully  considered  the concerns of all sectors of the community, resulting in a thorough report that will help guide  a  new  Department  of  Community  Safety  to  build  increased  security  and  trust between safety officials and residents.

• The proposed Department of Community Safety would add a Division of Community Solutions consisting of unarmed, culturally competent, anti-racist civilian first responders to  respond  to  non-violent  emergencies.    This  addition  will  reduce  tension  between community members and the Division of Police by meeting many emergencies where medical, mental health and social service skills rather than force are needed. It will lighten the workload on the police, enabling them to interact with the community in ways that increase trust.

• We agree that the Department of Community Safety must be led by a civilian with a strong background of expertise and experience in racial justice, social work, public health, administration,  and  knowledge  of  the  intersections  of  race,  public  health,  and  public safety. These are not the skills typically cultivated in the training and education of law enforcement professionals, and they will be essential in order to truly reform the culture of local policing.

• The RPS report proposes that first responders in both the Division of Community Safety and the Division of Police will receive training in de-escalation tactics, alternatives to use of force, trauma-informed approaches, and mental health awareness. We believe that this approach will greatly increase the security and well-being of all County residents.

•  The  RPS  proposal  also  offers  us  a  plan  for  maintaining  better  records  and  data management. This will give our County a clearer understanding of how the human rights of all County residents are being addressed by our Division of Community Safety, so we can continue to improve our efforts.

We cannot guarantee that we will effectively eradicate all forms of injustice, but together, we must commit to our shared responsibility to take steps that will improve the safety and welfare of all in our community and eradicate all forms of unjust treatment on the basis  of  racial,  socio-economic,  cultural,  ethnic,  religious,  sexual,  gender  or  national identities.

Respectfully submitted,
The Tompkins County Human Rights Commission June 17, 2022
Peyi Soyinka-Airewele, Chairperson
Ruth Yarrow, Vice-Chairperson
Joanna Green, Secretary
Amos Malone, Treasurer
Njoku Awa
Anjanette Brown
Jo Carcich
Lisa P Christian
Peaches Gillet
Larry Roberts