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Tompkins County Sheriff's Office Releases Details on Unarmed Pilot Program

The Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) is announcing a pilot program to respond to certain non-emergency calls for service with unarmed Sheriff’s Clerks. The unarmed responses may be handled via telephone or in-person depending on the nature of the call. This pilot program is a Tompkins County Reimagining Public Safety plan and is being led by the Tompkins County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Derek Osborne.

The Reimagining Plan outlining this program includes the goal to better align available resources with emergency response needs. The program is intended to both assess the effectiveness and outcomes of unarmed responses to certain call types and free up time for Sheriff’s Deputies to respond to emergency calls, complete investigations, and build more relationships with members of the community. This pilot program is specific to the TCSO and does not impact the calls for service responded to by other local police departments.

The program will officially begin once Sheriff’s Clerks are hired and trained, which is anticipated to be early this summer. TCSO will alert the community on what to expect when changes are official and how calls will be responded to in the future.

The pilot program includes the following call types and determining factors:

  • Call Type 1: Car vs. Deer
    • Are there multiple vehicles involved? If yes, a deputy would be dispatched.
    • Are there injuries to humans on the scene? If yes, the appropriate deputy, fire, or emergency medical services would be dispatched.
    • Is the vehicle drivable? If no, a deputy would be dispatched.
    • Does the deer involved in the accident have life-threatening or disabling injuries? If yes, a deputy would be dispatched.
  • Call Type 2: Assist - Traffic Complaint
    • Is the call in progress (actively happening)? If yes, a deputy would be dispatched.
    • Is it a "Fix It Ticket?” Clerks would handle intake at TCSO.
    • Example: caller wishes to speak about speeding during school hours in neighborhood (not occurring at this time) – If all criteria are met, call is entered for service and assigned to a Sheriff's Clerk.
    • Reckless Driver/Road Rage Incident – If yes, deputy a would be dispatched.
  • Call Type 3: Property Complaint - Lost DMV Items
    • These calls are related to driver’s license or license plate.
    • If there is no information related to a suspect of a crime, it would be dispatched to a Sheriff's Clerk. If there is information on a suspect of a theft, a deputy would be dispatched.
  • Call Type 4: Property Check - Vacant Property Check Requests
    • If caller contacts 9-1-1 center, call is entered for service and dispatched to a Sheriff's Clerk.
    • Call can also be entered directly by Sheriff's Clerk if they are contacted through TCSO.
  • Call Type 5: Fraud /Telephone Scam
    • Call to be entered by 9-1-1 Center and dispatched to a Sheriff's Clerk.
    • If there are any jurisdictional issues, Sheriff’s Office will handle in all cases if other agency is not available.
  • Call Type 6: Fraud / Larceny
    • If evidence or suspect info is present – a deputy would be dispatched with potentially a joint response with a Sheriff's Clerk.
    • Dispatch will enter call for service and assign law enforcement. Law Enforcement will advise dispatch whether a Sheriff's Clerk will be added to the call.
  • Call Type 7: Noise Complaint
    • If information is present that indicates a large gathering, presence or alcohol, or a dispute a deputy would be dispatched.

Calls for service typically come from 9-1-1, where emergency dispatchers communicate information directly to first responders. Calls may also be initiated by a walk-in or direct call to TCSO. Once this pilot program is implemented, when someone in Tompkins County calls 9-1-1 for assistance and it is within the Sheriff’s jurisdiction, TCSO may respond via an unarmed or telephonic system.

TCSO will report outcomes and data from the pilot program as the program progresses and will communicate updates via the Reimagining Public Safety Website. A plan for community input has been launched on the website, asking the community to “review the list of pilot program call types and share how you think success of this pilot program should be measured.” If you are interested in providing input on measuring success, submit an idea on the website.

Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne stated, “We’re excited to look at a new approach to these calls. We don’t need to respond to every call we get with a deputy, we can free up their time to do the important policing work they’re tasked with while offering more immediate responses by someone unarmed to non-emergencies.” Osborne continued, “We’re committed to seeing how this goes and looking at the data to decide a long-term solution for our office. We may add more call types in the future, this is meant to be a start so we can see if we’re meeting the outcomes that we are setting out to achieve.”

Tompkins County Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Deanna Carrithers stated, “This is one of nearly 20 Reimagining plans across our collaborative, I applaud Sheriff Osborne and his team for putting in the work to launch a meaningful program and study outcomes. One of the charges of Reimagining Public Safety is to reduce disproportionate minority contact with police and the criminal justice system, this pilot program is a part of that effort.”

For more information on the Reimagining Public Safety plans being implemented across Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca, visit www.publicsafetyreimagined.org.