by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, January 2016) At the December 17, 2015 meeting of the Cleveland Community Police Commission (CCPC) held at West Side Community House, 9300 Lorain Avenue, members of the Monitoring Team, charged with overseeing compliance with the consent decree between the City of Cleveland and the Justice Department, talked to the commission about the importance of their role in the process. The Monitoring Team is answerable to Chief United States District Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., who provides oversight to the consent decree, which represents an agreement between the City of Cleveland and the United States Justice Department to reform the Cleveland Police Department.
Cleveland Consent Decree Monitor Matthew Barge stressed to the CCPC the importance of their role in the reform of the Cleveland Police Department. “Meaningful reform can’t happen unless community input is part of that,” said Barge. He urged the commission to “get involved in the substance of reforms that the consent decree requires.”
Barge told the commission, “The community is looking to you not only to be the representative of their views, but to understand what is going on in the process, to serve as a translator of what the issues are and to serve as a conduit to bring those issues back to the community.”
Barge also spoke of the role of his Monitoring Team as an agent of the federal court to settle disputes and make sure outcomes are consistent with the requirements of the consent decree.
Later in the course of the meeting, members of the public received a lesson on the role the Monitoring Team can play in the process, when CCPC Co-Chair Rhonda Y. Williams gave a status report on the commission’s work on Police Review Board and Office of Professional Standards Charter Amendments.
Williams outlined the work the CCPC had done to create a draft of Revised City Charter Provisions Regarding the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) and the Police Review Board (PRB). As documented in the minutes of the CCPC, the Commission was doing due diligence to meet its mandate under the Cleveland Consent Decree “to review, assess, and ultimately provide recommended changes for the Police Review Board (PRB) and the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) in the City Charter.” Indeed, the Committee, and a Working Group it set up, did a great deal of research on best practices in other cities, solicited public comment from individuals and other groups, held public meetings and prepared a draft of its proposed changes to post online and publish in its minutes for public review.
Williams noted that all the while the Commission kept City of Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry appraised of their efforts. Despite that, the City of Cleveland prepared its own Charter Amendment recommendations without waiting for the input of the CCPC. The City of Cleveland submitted it Charter Recommendations to Cleveland City Council and City Council introduced legislation on December 7th to place the charter revisions on the March 2016 ballot.
Williams said that the CCPC then went to the Monitoring Group to ask them to intervene and get a reset “so we will have an opportunity to provide input.”
Committee Co-Chair Mario Clopton said the reset should offer more time for community input. “I am looking forward to have time to understand completely what we are recommending.”
Williams noted that the committee offers a questionnaire online along with its draft of the Revised City Charter Provisions so the public can make additional comments online. She also hopes the Monitoring Team can facilitate a meeting to review its draft proposal as planned with the City of Cleveland Administration, City Council, and the Monitoring Team – to come up with a final document for City Council to vote to place on the ballot.
There was some discussion as to whether all this could be done by a January 16, 2016 deadline to place an issue on the March 2016 ballot, or if it would be better to allow more time and submit the issue for the November 2016 ballot. A number of Commission members said they would rather have the issue on the General Election Ballot than the Primary Ballot.
However, Williams said it was not yet clear what the “reset” they requested the Monitoring Team to pursue, means in light of the legislation already introduced by Cleveland City Council. She wondered whether or not it will mean there will be a “resending, or retraction” of the introduced legislation, or if they will proceed with the March ballot issue. Williams said the commission was pursuing, figuring out, and getting “concrete answers as to what it (the reset) means.”
Committee member Lee Fisher defended the Administration and City Council saying in his view and what he knows of the legislative process, the City Law Department submitted the proposed ordinance to Cleveland City Council. Council introduced it moving it forward to a March deadline. He called the lack of inclusion of the CCPC’s input, an “innocent miscommunication.” Fisher said, “Moving forward towards the March deadline, there is no reason to believe they are not going to be working with us on this.”
Williams said while she could not speak to the intent of the City Administration and the City Council, she knows that the City of Cleveland Law Director knew the CCPC recommendations were in the works. She sited several dates in late November of contacts made with the Law Department. She said at no point did the City of Cleveland inform the Committee it was ready to submit legislation to City Council. She also noted a presentation by the committee was planned for December 9th before the Public Safety Committee of Cleveland City Council, two days after Cleveland City Council introduced the legislation on December 7th, 2016. Williams said whether or not the actions of the City Administration and City Council represent a violation of the consent decree is a question she will leave for the Monitoring Team to address.
Editor’s Note: For more information about the Cleveland Community Police Commission and its work visit its website at: www.clevelandcpc.org.