GENEVA — More than 50 people gathered in front of City Hall on a chilly, overcast Tuesday to protest City Council’s decision to cut two probationary police officer positions from the 2021 city budget.
“We are here to protest the police cuts that blindsided us,” said Mike Pinco, one of the organizers of the protest. “They are making these cuts, yet keeping money in for neutering cats and giving 3% raises to the city manager and comptroller.”
“Hopefully they will rethink this and change their mind,” said Mike Stivers, a retired Geneva Police Department officer.
Council voted 5-4 last week to cut the two positions, reducing the proposed city budget by $160,960 and helping reduce the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value from $17.17 to $16.21.
Ward 6 Councilor John Pruett, who made the motion, said Council should make the cuts in light of a 12.6% average increase in property assessments that would cause an increase in city tax bills next year, even if the tax rate remained the same.
Tuesday’s protesters did not agree with the move.
“These cuts will make the citizens and the police officers unsafe,” Pinco said. “We want the Council to reconsider these cuts. We feel this is a backdoor way to defund the police and is part of an agenda that comes from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.”
Kipp Goodman, a member of the Seneca County sheriff’s office, said he was at the event to support the Geneva Police Department.
“I’m not happy and want to do what I can to change their minds,” Goodman said. “It’s a matter of community safety and officer safety and this seems to align with the whole defund the police movement.”
Stivers said he questioned why Council would even think about making such reductions during “these difficult times here and in the nation.”
“The city has been down 1-2 officers constantly,” Stivers said. “They are rarely at full strength. Now is not the time to do this. It puts people and officers in jeopardy.”
Organizer Jackie Lynn echoed the others in saying the loss of two officers could place people and officers at risk.
“Most people don’t want fewer police,” Lynn said. “We want our police back.”
Former GPD Investigator and Ontario County Supervisor Greg Bendzlowicz agreed that safety of the public and officers is at issue. He said people should vote out those who approved the cuts and “fund candidates who will do the right thing.”
Pinco said opponents of the cuts will meet privately to plan further strategy to combat the cuts.
Councilors Ken Camera and Jan Regan, both of whom were among the five who voted for the police cuts, watched the protest from across the street. Pinco noted their presence and asked them to come over and explain their votes. They declined.
“They have their right to express their feelings,” Regan said. “I’m glad the protest is peaceful.”
During the protest, a Black woman parked her car on Castle Street across from the event and placed a “Black Lives Matter” sign on the side of her car. She then engaged in a back-and-forth shouting match with protesters. The woman, who declined to give her name other than to say she is a “Black woman in the United States,” shouted “Black Lives Matter,” while protesters shouted back “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.”
Signs held by protesters stated “Back the Blue,” “Change the Vote,” “Resign Ken, Laura, Tom, John and Jan,” and “Support the Police.”
Pinco said he will speak at tonight’s virtual City Council meeting to urge Council to reconsider the cuts.
Several protesters noted they will work to defeat those who voted for the cuts when their terms end in three years.