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Mixed feelings over Ithaca police reforms at 'community healing' event

 About fifty people attended a "community healing" event hosted by the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County's Community Justice Center. The event was part of the city's ongoing Reimagining Public Safety police reform effort.
Megan Zerez
About 50 people attended a "community healing" event hosted by the city of Ithaca and Tompkins County's Community Justice Center at the Cinépolis theater Tuesday. The event was part of the city's ongoing Reimagining Public Safety police reform effort.

This week, the city of Ithaca and Tompkins County held a “community healing session” as part of the city’s ongoing police reform effort. The event was intended to bring police officers together with community members to discuss tensions around policing.

But many said they felt attendance at the event was lacking among both police officers and community members alike.

About 50 people showed up to the event on Tuesday. Keynote speaker Angel Acosta led attendees through meditative exercises and discussion about trauma related to policing.

Some attendees said they were hopeful for meaningful change. Others expressed frustration at the pace of the city's reform effort.

"People are just tired of conversations," said Gibrian Hagood, an outreach worker with Family & Children's Service of Ithaca. "It's almost like I was telling my colleagues, conversation is like good intentions. It never gets anybody anywhere."

Several attendees said they didn’t see many community members in the audience – particularly people of color, who tend to be disproportionately affected by policing.

Kiara David also works at Family and Children's Service of Ithaca.

"We can't sit here and have a conversation about people who are being traumatized and not have a room full of traumatized people," David said.

She and other attendees noted much of the audience appeared to be composed of city officials or outreach workers.

"I honestly didn't know it was open to the whole public," David said. Had she known about the event earlier, she said she would have encouraged her clients to attend.

Ithaca police Sgt. Mary Orsaio was one of two law enforcement officers who attended the event. She said more of her fellow officers should have been there, as well.

But she said orders come from the top — and the Ithaca Police Department hasn’t had a permanent chief since 2021.

"It's frustrating, asking for permanent leadership," Orsaio said, speaking in her capacity as union secretary. "And until we have permanent leadership, we can't move on and make the meaningful changes that our community wants to see and that our officers need for some relief."

Ithaca recently opted to start from scratch and repeat its search for a police chief. The move came after a disagreement between Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis and several Common Council members over Lewis' pick, current Acting Chief John Joly.

Several attendees said they thought the event wasn’t very accessible to people who work during the week. It took place over three hours in the middle of the day on Tuesday.

WSKG attended the event but was not permitted to record during the session. Organizers said the policy was in place to encourage participants to speak openly and freely.