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Committee Recommends Further Study of Potential Law Enforcement Co-Location

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Committee Recommends Further Study of Potential Law Enforcement Co-Location

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Legislature’s Public Safety Committee advanced a recommendation supporting in-depth study to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a joint City-County public safety facility. 

The action comes three weeks after the Committee met in joint session with the City’s Planning and Economic Development Committee to review findings of a preliminary study by Kingsbury Architecture which examined potential opportunities to co-locate the Ithaca Police Department and Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office (Road Patrol and Civil Division) on a site located within the City of Ithaca. 

The resolution, recommended by a 4-1 vote (Legislator Henry Granison dissenting), expresses the County’s agreement to fund both a more detailed architectural and engineering study to provide the basis to evaluate costs and benefits associated with such a facility; and an operational study, to analyze the operational use of shared facilities by the Sheriff and City Police agencies.  Staff for both municipalities would be charged with preparing Scopes of Work for the studies, to be approved by City and County, with the County Administrator and City Attorney charged with preparing a Request for Proposals. Yet-to-be-determined cost of the studies would be shared equally by the County and the City, and the City and County would jointly approach New York State to request reimbursement for  the cost of consulting services.

As the committee began to discuss the matter, Committee Chair Rich John stressed that the only issue at hand is whether to undertake a study, not to make foregone conclusions on agreeing to co-locate or a particular site.  It is critically important to look at the matter with an open mind, he said, considering how the interests of the taxpayers could be served.

Some Legislators expressed concern about the favored Commercial Avenue site advanced in the Kingsbury study, citing its location in a floodplain, traffic concerns related to Route 13, and its distance from the higher-volume call area in the county’s northeast.  Sheriff Derek Osborne remarked that he does have some concerns that should be addressed in studying any relocation but stressed that his biggest concern would be splitting his operation—the Sheriff’s Office and the Jail.  “The bottom line is that we need a new building…The jail is antiquated,” he said.  Central booking and central arraignment (as recommended two years ago by the Municipal Courts Task Force and not necessarily limited to a common facility) would be an operational asset, he noted.  Committee members informally agreed that they have no interest in dividing the Sheriff’s operation, and subsequently modified resolution language regarding the scope of the study from referring to a specific property to “all feasible sites that could accommodate a jail.” 

Although not related to the matter of co-location, Legislator Shawna Black said she wants to make sure that another potential facility option continues to be studied, as well:  that of locating a such a facility as an addition to a proposed future crash-fire-rescue building on Airport land adjacent to the current Sheriff’s property.

The Committee today also discussed but delayed any action on a proposed resolution in support of allowing deer and bear rifle hunting in Tompkins County.  The proposed resolution would request the county’s NYS Senate and Assembly representatives to support legislation to amend the applicable State Environmental Conservation Law to authorize the use of rifles within Tompkins County for deer and bear hunting.  Tompkins is among eight of 54 Upstate counties that do not permit the use of rifles for hunting of deer or bear.  Rifle hunting is characterized by advocates as a safer, more practical and more humane hunting option.  It was the consensus of committee members that careful consideration is warranted and that they would like to hear input from the public before acting.  An input session is expected to be part of the committee’s July meeting.