This is a developing story. Updates will be added as appropriate.
According to a press release from the City of Ithaca, Ithaca Police Department has noticed a "deeply troubling failure across nearly a decade to investigate a broad array of cases" by the department's Investigations Division. In particular, the release points out an array of sex-offense cases that were inadequately investigated.
"The impacts of these investigatory failures were by definition deeply traumatic for victims who came to the IPD seeking help and justice, and found none," the release said.
According to the release, the department has provided detailed records of this failure to the District Attorney’s office and the Office of the Attorney General, and they will be cooperating in any further investigation from those offices. IPD will be taking appropriate action with respect to officers involved in this failure and are seeking the termination of the officer(s) responsible for these failures. The announcement is short on specifics regarding how many cases are in question and which officers are at fault or will be terminated. They are also asking any members of the public to come forward in the event they feel a previous complaint, particularly of a sex offense, went unanswered by the IPD.
A source told the Ithaca Times that problems were discovered in March of last year, when a new officer entered the Criminal Investigation Division and found a number of open cases in the department's database. A city source said that one IPD investigator in particular is in question, Christine Barksdale, and that the city is moving forward with her termination. She is the only member of IPD who is being terminated in relation to the issue, though others in the chain of command are being punished internally. The number of cases involved is around 200, the source said, 80 of which were sex-related crimes. An audit was initiated after months of an internal review.
When reached by phone on Friday afternoon, Barksdale declined to comment on the story.
Mayor Myrick said in the press release, “I am shocked and saddened by these revelations, which can easily erode public confidence in the IPD. I do, however, draw encouragement from the confidence that I have in the IPD’s current leadership, including a new Chief, a new Deputy Chief for Professional Standards, and new policies established by new leadership in the Investigations Division, under which the IPD is proactively ensuring that a failure of this sort will never happen again.”
A legal battle could be on the horizon over the termination. Eric Doane, president of the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, said in response to a request for comment: "The only thing I have to say is that the IPBA supports its members and will vigorously defend them."
"I was disgusted to learn of this appalling failure in our Investigations Division, leaving uninvestigated so many assigned cases involving the most vulnerable victims of some of the most traumatic crimes," wrote IPD Chief Dennis Nayor in an email to the Ithaca Times. "New leadership in that unit quickly identified these failures and we immediately implemented proactive administrative measures to address this situation. Moving forward we are continuing to follow-up on cases that went unanswered, and ask that those who wish to speak to us regarding a past case to please contact the Department."
Reactions poured in from other city officials throughout Thursday. Alderperson Ducson Nguyen, of the Second Ward, took to Twitter to lament the situation, saying the magnitude of the problem is "beyond heartbreaking."
"This dereliction of duty took far too long to uncover and the resulting delayed followup may reopen painful wounds for victims," Nguyen wrote. "We're making major changes in leadership, supervision, and case load detailed in the release."
But not all were ready to condemn Barksdale. Fellow Common Council member Cynthia Brock said in an email that the allegations were "deeply disturbing on many levels," and said that if they are true it would represent a failure to the community and the population impacted by such crimes. She was, though, firm in her belief that the "allegations would be proven false" against Barksdale after further investigation, citing "inconsistencies in the information that has been given to Common Council" and stating that she's unsatisfied with the investigation that has taken place so far.
"A thorough and unbiased investigation into the allegations is necessary to determine the truth and validity of these claims," Brock wrote. "I have the utmost respect for the professionalism, thoroughness and expertise of our Police Department in general and Investigator Barksdale specifically. Christine has been a tireless advocate for our community and for survivors of sexual abuse. There are deep inconsistencies to this story which should give us pause before passing judgement on what is going on."
Several steps to keep this from recurring have been taken by the Ithaca Police Department, according to the press release:
• New expectations have been disseminated to the Investigators.
• All open cases require an update every two weeks unless a Division supervisor approves otherwise (due to vacations and/or other time off).
• The Division holds daily briefings in an effort to increase communication, efficiency, and teamwork.
• All cases are tracked from the time they are assigned to the time that they are closed.
• The Division has established via County IT a new module of the Spillman CAD system for Investigations. This case management module is now the method for tracking all investigative efforts involved with every new case assigned. It allows for custom searches and reports and custom Excel Spreadsheets, helping to eliminate the possibility of human error when tracking case activity.
• The Technical Sergeant has been retitled as a second Criminal Investigative Sergeant, and now works under the Investigations Division umbrella. This Sergeant provides for an additional layer of supervision and oversight.
• The Division is also implementing monthly supervision meetings with each investigator. During these meetings, the supervisor will pull a report of the open and assigned cases and review the progress and status of each case with the Investigator.
• The supervision team for Investigations includes a Lieutenant and two Sergeants. The three supervisors are responsible for direct supervision of the Investigators, as well as oversight of all department Evidence, the Body-Worn Camera Program, warrants, the Crime Scene Unit, and the management of confidential funds and informants.
• All investigators are now generalists to ensure equitable work distribution. This means that Investigations no longer has single designations for the Investigators, such as Juvenile or Sex Crimes. All Investigators assigned to the Division will receive appropriate training and will handle all varieties of cases.