After a month off, the City Administration Committee got back to work Wednesday night receiving a disappointing update on a new policing tactic and advancing a new holiday one step closer to existence.
The committee heard an update on the Officer Next Door Program, which was established early last year to encourage community policing in the West Village Apartments, an affordable housing complex that has struggled with crime. Two rent-free apartments were offered to members of the Ithaca Police Department as part of the program. According to much of the discussion at the meeting, though, the experiment appears to have not produced a positive effect, at least to this point.
Alderperson Cynthia Brock read a comment from a resident in West Village who seemed thoroughly disappointed by the Officer Next Door program, and the complex's overall operation.
"The bottom line is West Village management and Omni failed in their obligation to provide us with a safe place to live," the comment said.
Brock said she had received those sentiments several times from people living in West Village, and that there has not appeared to be much of an improvement in the apartments. Much of the blame, from Brock and others on the committee, landed on the management company. Omni New York, LLC, which owns the property, has donated thousands of dollars to fund extra police patrols of the area. But Omni's (based in New York City) absenteeism has remained the biggest issue.
"If we had a manager who was taking responsibility for their property, we wouldn't have this situation," she said.
"We do have a problem in West Village," Tyler admitted, noting the large size of the 235 unit apartment community was also an obstacle. "It's a very tough location, given that it's a private housing complex, for us."
Tyler said he had personally sat there to observe the complex, and said the problems were obvious. He also said one officer will be moving out of the complex in the coming weeks, leaving just one still in the complex. Both officers, Tyler said, thought their presence was having a positive impact on the community.
Additionally, questions of ethics conflicts stemming from the program, since free rent at the apartments for the officers is worth more than $75 which would trigger an ethical violation, that had been dealt with at the time via the institution of a waiver specifically for the Officer Next Door Program were once again broached. Brock, however, said the situation still creates an ethics violation, as a for-profit real estate corporation is giving what amounts to a gift to police officers, putting them in an inherently uncomfortable situation for law enforcement.
Alderperson George McGonigal said he had met with the officers since the program started, and said it may be beneficial to have more routine check-ins with the participating police to chart progress. McGonigal wondered aloud how management of the complex could be pushed to do more to improve conditions there.
"We need more than cameras, we need more than Officers Next Door," he said. "How do we get management to do that?"
Tyler said he thought success in the complex is going to have to involve residents, police and West Village management working together. McGonigal said he may reach out to Omni representatives to bring them to the city for a meeting.
After that discussion concluded, the CAC moved on to the topic that attracted most of the dozen or so people in the audience. Common Council will now consider officially declaring a new holiday in the City of Ithaca, aiming to honor the indigenous people of the area (and nationwide).
The ordinance, called the "Recognition of Indigenous People's Day," advanced past the committee via unanimous approval.
Dan Hill, of the Cayuga Nation of Native Americans, spoke in support of the ordinance, and helped the committee during a later discussion of some of the more detailed language within the ordinance. Mainly, he advocated for a change in the bill that stated "Indigenous Peoples of the lands now known as the Americas have occupied these lands since time immemorial." Hill suggested changing the wording to "[...] owned these lands [...]" as a more accurate and respectful expression. The committee agreed.
The ordinance was passed after some discussion and, if further approved by the Common Council, it will be observed on the second Monday of October. The idea of Indigenous Peoples' Day is relatively new but has gained some momentum around the country, essentially as an answer to Columbus Day, which is held on October 12. Some have said the celebration of America's often-recognized discoverer is an inappropriate federal holiday due to Columbus' use of brutal force against Native Americans after he found America.
A similar ordinance was not passed Tuesday night by the Tompkins County Legislature after concerns emerged over changing "occupied" to "own", which Hill suggested at that meeting as well. The measure will be discussed and is scheduled for a vote at the Common Council meeting on September 6.