(Plain Press, April, 2016) The Cleveland Community Police Commission held a Town Hall meeting on March 9th at Halloran Skating Rink to discuss use of force by the Cleveland Police Department. Guest presenters included Attorney Terry Gilbert and Latonya Goldsby of Black Lives Matter. The commission had invited a representative of the Cleveland Division of Police to give a presentation as well, but no representative showed up.
Gilbert, a criminal defense and Civil Rights Lawyer, said he has represented victims in a number of cases involving police use of force. Having seen the tragic consequences of people abused by police, Gilbert called an act of violence by police officers “one of the most horrible things that can happen to a citizen.” He said it is his experience that police officers often escape accountability for their actions with cases involving police use of force sometimes taking three to six years to go through the justice system.
Gilbert said that in the past efforts to monitor use of force have been woefully inadequate. While thousands of complaints have been filed, very few result in discipline. He said a Police Review Board set up in Cleveland in 1984 has not worked, because it has no power.
Gilbert offered a number of suggestions to help reduce the number of cases of improper use of force by Cleveland Police officers: 1) Make sure police officers receive adequate training to avoid situations where police officers overreact and place themselves in a situation where use of force is more likely to occur. 2) Mental Health training – initiate protocol for response to mental health crisis situations. 3) Early warning system to flag officers that show they have a history of improper use of force. 4) More accountability at the upper echelon of the Police Department. Better report writing. Give Inspector General more access to reports and make sure they are reviewed. 5) Referral of cases of police use of force to Grand Jury in a timely matter. 6) Create an independent unit of professional police investigators not subject to any influence to investigate cases of use of force.
Gilbert concluded saying, “Without a police department that has accountability, you will not have a safe city.”
LaTonya Goldsby, said she became involved in learning about issues related to police use of force when her 12-year old cousin, Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer in 2012. She said the path to getting involved has been very difficult, “There is no instruction on how to change the system,” she said.
Goldsby addressed a couple of issues concerning police use of force. One was the violation by police officers of protocols and procedures. She said if one looks at the video of police responding to the call about her cousin, Tamir Rice, police drove their vehicle directly to Tamir, violating protocol and procedures. The second issues she addressed was the failure by police officers to administer first aid following the shooting.
Following the guest presenters, residents and stakeholders in attendance offered their suggestions as to policies and procedures to regulate use of force by Cleveland Police officers. Members of the Cleveland Community Police Commission promised to incorporate ideas brought up at the meeting into their recommendations for comprehensive police reform in Cleveland. Those wishing to provide additional community input on this topic can go the the Cleveland Community Police Commission website to fill out a questionnaire on police use of force at www.clecpc.org.