Community Police Commission has 1st public meeting


Community Police Commission holds first public meeting

By R. T. Andrews


The first public meeting of the Cleveland Community Police Commission, held October 14 at St. Paul’s Community Church, 4427 Franklin Blvd. on the city’s near west side, likely raised more questions than it answered. Close to 150 people attended.

Mayor Frank Jackson appointed the 13-member commission in September pursuant to the consent decree the city negotiated with the US Department of Justice following a two-year investigation into Cleveland Police Department policies and practices. The agreement calls for the commission to make recommendations to the Chief of Police and the City of Cleveland, including the Mayor and City Council, on policies and practices related to community and problem-oriented policing, bias-free policing, and police transparency.

The main question is whether the Commission’s work will ultimately make a difference in improving the relationships between a suspicious populace that too often seems in need of protection from the police, even when their presence has been summoned for assistance.

The Commission’s three co-chairs are all educators: Mario Clopton teaches at Shaker Heights High, Professor Rhonda Y. Williams teaches history at Case Western Reserve University, where she also founded and leads the Social Justice Institute, and Craig Boise is dean of the law school at Cleveland State University.


Citizens step up to speak

About twenty citizens stepped forward during the public comment portion at the end of the meeting. Most adhered to the three-minute time limit although, predictably, former school board member Gerald Henley was among the few who did not. Henley said he had filed two complaints of police misconduct but “never heard back”. He urged psychological testing or re-testing of all Cleveland police, saying, “Some policemen are not fit to be police.”

Katie, a social worker, said there should be mandatory drug testing of any police officers involved in a fatal incident.

Bruce Jones, a retired social worker, inquired about cultural competency training for police.

One of the most poignant comments came from Elaine, a ten-year Cleveland resident who said her late husband, who was mentally ill following serious childhood abuse, had regular encounters with the police, and was sometimes fixated on “suicide by police”. She indicated that these encounters were very much a mixed bag, with some officers acting with the utmost professionalism while others were clearly out of their depth in trying to handle the challenges her husband presented.

Turning to the issues of today, she spoke movingly about “the beautiful little boys who are running amok through our neighborhood” and urged the Commission to look at other societies and communities for solutions based on finding and eradicating the roots of violence.

Longtime Cleveland activist Don Freeman had a two-part comment, first addressing what he calls “the Cleveland atrocity”, the still-unresolved 62 police car chase in November 2012 that ended in a 137-bullet fusillade and the deaths of two unarmed citizens, and second, how the arbitration procedures built into the disciplining of police almost uniformly result in police going unpunished for egregious conduct.

Other commenters included a cousin of Tamir Rice who asked how to hold police accountable when they violate their own rules; former Plain Dealer reporter Dick Peery who cited both the efficacy of former court orders in bringing diversity to Cleveland’s safety forces and the city’s failed process in hiring Patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who fatally shot and killed Tamir Rice a year ago in still another unresolved case.

Also speaking was Luis Colon, a former aide to ex-Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who called for more Hispanic representation across city “entities”.

Ward 14 Councilman Brian Cummins noted how long it took for this meeting to occur following the scathing indictment of the Cleveland Police by the Justice Department last December. He urged the Commission to file an interim report after six months, provide an outline of dates and deadlines for increased public understanding, and place hard copies of all relevant documents in area libraries to supplement internet access. He also urged the Commission to look at Seattle, which he said is three years along the consent decree path that Cleveland should follow.

David Kachadourian, a history teacher at Cleveland School of the Arts, offered perhaps the most sobering of all the public comments, and the one that drew the evening’s loudest applause. He encouraged Commission members to read Chapter 11 of former mayor Carl Stokes’ autobiography, Promises of Power. The chapter focuses on the informal structure of the police force and the challenges inherent in trying to change the dysfunctional culture it reinforces.


Discordant Voices

 A curious undertow rose to the surface early in the meeting after a presentation by CSU Professor Ronnie Dunn on his 2007 study of traffic stop data. Dunn briefly traced the history of Cleveland’s police review board, established in 1984 as one of the nation’s first. He then reviewed the disposition of civilian complaints, noting that 80% of the complainants were dissatisfied with the outcome of the process even though the majority of them had sought only moderate results, in some instances a mere apology or acknowledgment of error.

When Dunn finished, Damon Scott, a lawyer who administers the city’s Office of Professional Standards within the Safety Department, was asked to describe procedures related to his office. Despite repeated urging of co-chair Williams, Scott strayed from the agenda to say he was “dumbfounded” that the commission would begin its first public hearing by presenting what he called Dunn’s outdated study.

A second disconcerting element to the proceedings was the sight of Detective Loomis, the combative voice of the police union’s rank and file. When the detective removed his sport coat to sit, revealing the sidearm his hip, it was a disquieting reminder of police power.

After the meeting, when an attendee commented on the high degree of civility observed by the audience of 150 or so, a well-known criminal justice advocate suggested that the location of the meeting likely influenced the outcome. He went on to say that he was not referring to the church — churches are the venue of all five meetings scheduled to date — but the distance from the site of neighborhoods where police misconduct issues may be perceived as more acute. If these meetings were to be held in Glenville and Mt. Pleasant for instance, it was suggested that both the audience and the energy of the meetings would carry a different tone.

While there are many citizens whose concerns carry them all over town to participate in public forums on social justice, noteworthy was the absence of all of Councilman Cummins’s colleagues.

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Clopton, one of the co-chairs, said it would be the community’s responsibility to support the recommendations once they were made to ensure official follow through. Williams, also a co-chair and the most vocal panel member during this first public meeting, echoed Clopton’s statement. She said, “The Commission is a tool that should be leveraged by the community” and that the community needs to stay encouraged in multiple ways.

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