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Ithaca police union: Interim police chief's departure and lawsuit could disrupt reforms

Lawyers for Barksdale filed the case in Tompkins County Supreme Court last Friday.
Megan Zerez
Police union leaders say they worry Joly's departure could hamper Ithaca's already delayed search for a permanent police chief. The Ithaca Police Department has been without permanent leadership for nearly two years.

Ithaca's police union president said he thinks the sudden departure of acting Police Chief John Joly could disrupt ongoing reforms within the police department.

Last week, Joly told the Ithaca Voice he was taking an indefinite leave of absence. He also said he planned to sue the city and Mayor Laura Lewis for what he described as a hostile work environment. Neither Joly nor Lewis were available for comment.

Union President Tom Condzella said Joly's departure comes in the midst of what looked to be some positive developments for the department.

"The acting chief was actually able to start a officer wellness program at the police department, and the first phase of it was getting gym memberships for each member of the department," Condzella said.

According to Condzella, Joly had also been working to implement the first of Ithaca’s landmark police reforms, like a recently launched dashboard that aims to make police data easier to access.

Police officers and their supporters have previously argued that the city's lack of a permanent chief had delayed implementation of Ithaca's landmark police reform effort, Reimagining Public Safety — though some progressive leaders and activists have questioned that claim.

Joly served as interim police chief for nearly two years. Last December, Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis selected him to lead the police department permanently, but later withdrew the offer after complaints from common council members.

The city later opted to reopen the search nationally. On Wednesday night, the council approved a measure to raise the starting salary for the new chief to a maximum of $150,000, a 13% increase.

Joly has not provided specific details on what may have prompted the lawsuit. But Condzella said Lewis' reversal spurred frustration throughout the department.

"Essentially, John Joly was told publicly in a very, you know, embarrassing way that he's not good enough to lead the department," Condzella said. "Then the mayor turns around and says but we still need you to lead the department for another... four to six months, potentially a year while we find another chief."

Condzella and other police union leaders said they don't expect to see a new permanent chief before the end of 2023.

Deputy Chief Vincent Monticello took over as acting police chief, but it won't be for more than a few months. Monticello had already announced his impending retirement prior to Joly's departure. It's not clear yet who will take Monticello's place upon his departure.