TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WETM) – The Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office has announced plans for a pilot program to respond to certain types of non-emergency calls with unarmed Sheriffs Clerks.

The unarmed responses will be handled via telephone or in-person at the Sheriff’s Office, utilizing the same computerized records management systems that link the dispatch center and the road patrol vehicles. The pilot program is part of the Tompkins County Reimaging Public Safety plan and is being led by the Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Derek Osborne.

At this time there is no concrete start date for the pilot program, however, it is anticipated to officially begin early this summer. There will be two positions, and they have been already been filled. Those hired were placed through a thorough background investigation, similar to that which deputies have to go through. The clerks will not be uniformed officers.

Eventually, these positions will be directly supervised by the Road Patrol Sergeants, just like deputies are, so that the supervisor is aware of what is happening in the county at all times. With this system in place, it will help facilitate the upgrade or downgrade of a call from a clerk response to a deputy response, or vice versa.

We are doing this in order to handle certain calls a different way, utilizing civilians in-house while freeing up road patrol resources for more urgent calls.

Derek Osborne – Tompkins County Sheriff

Goals of the reimaging plan are to better align available resources for response to emergencies. The pilot program is intended to assess the effectiveness and outcomes of unarmed responses to certain types of calls for service. Another goal of this program is to be able to free up time for Deputies to respond to emergency calls, complete investigations, and build more relationships with members of the community. This program only includes the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office and does not impact calls for services from other law enforcement agencies in the county.

The Sheriff’s Office will alert the community on what to expect when the changes are official and outline how calls will be responded to at a later time.

In the information that was released, there were 7 types of calls of service outlined that would potentially be handled by the new Sheriff’s Clerks.

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 the neighborhood (not occurring at this time) – If all criteria are met, the 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 the 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 the caller contacts the 9-1-1 center, the call is entered for service and dispatched to a Sheriff’s Clerk.
    • The 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, the Sheriff’s Office will handle all cases if the 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 a 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 of 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 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.

The Sheriff’s Office will report outcomes and data from the pilot program as the program progresses and will communicate updates via the Reimaging Public Safety Website. A plan to solicit community input has been launched on the website, asking the community to “review the list of pilot program types and share how you think the success of this pilot program should be measured.” You can submit ideas on their website which can be found HERE.

According to the email sent out:

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