by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, October 2020) Of late, much public discussion centers around the need for police reform. Here in Cleveland that effort is already underway. The Cleveland Community Police Commission has been working on reforming the Cleveland Police Department since 2015.
At its quarterly meeting held virtually on September 24th, the Cleveland Community Police Commission worked through a very full agenda filled with ideas from the community on how to reform the Cleveland Police Department.
The Community Police Commission (CPC), established in 2015 as part of the Consent Decree between the City of Cleveland and the United States Department of Justice, works to provide community input on needed police reforms so Cleveland Division of Police practices and procedures will comply with Constitutional Law.
Community Police Commission Executive Director Jason Goodrick worked out the technical details to allow the public and members of the commission to participate in the virtual meeting either online or via the telephone. Co-chairs Pastor Fredrick Knuckles and Richard Jackson introduced each item of the agenda and the speakers.
Superintendent of the Internal Affairs Unit of the Cleveland Division of Police Ronald Bakeman made a presentation to the CPC on the progress his unit has made in reducing the average time it takes to complete an investigation of a complaint of police misconduct. Bakeman said in 2017, the year before he took over the unit, it took an average of 313 days to complete an investigation. In 2018 the average time to complete a case was reduced to 260 days; in 2019 the average time was reduced to 161 days and thus far in 2020 the average time to complete an investigation was 68 days.
Bakeman says his office investigates allegations of criminal misconduct by police. He said it is his fervent hope that people in the community will gain trust in the internal affairs unit to investigate all complaints. He cited a case of a woman who was a heroin addict and a prostitute who brought up a case of a Cleveland Police Sergeant who was paying to have sex with her while he was on duty. Bakeman said his unit, which initially didn’t have a name of the Police Sergeant, was able to compare times and locations from the witness to duty reports and tracking information from the police vehicle to identify the officer involved. The officer was disciplined for his actions and forced to retire.
Bakeman said improvements in the time it takes to investigate a case allow his office to interview witnesses while their memory is still fresh. He stressed that not all police officers are cut out to be internal affairs investigators. He said he replaced a number of people in the office and now has staff that have the writing skills to prepare the 30-to-40-page reports required in many cases.
Bakeman said anyone who has a question about the status of their complaint about officer misconduct can contact him directly at 216-623-5551. He said inmates in jails and prisons also have called him or sent him letters to register complaints.
Co-chair Richard Jackson said a recent retreat of members of the Community Police Commission and representatives of the City of Cleveland Division of Police helped to improve relations between the parties and improve the ability of the Community Police Commission to obtain information it has requested. He said there is still a way to go on both sides. He cited the presence of Bakeman at the meeting as an example of improved relations.
Commission Member Professor Lewis Katz expressed concern about federal interventions in local policing such as Operation Legend and Operation Relentless Pursuit and their impact on local police reform efforts. He said he had asked United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herdman if the United States government had any interest in providing resources to address some of the social issues behind crime as part of these efforts. He said the U.S. Attorney acknowledged the federal programs were “straight police actions.”
Lacking a real effort to address the social determinants of crime, Professor Katz called the federal operations which Cleveland Police are participating “A political ploy to institute a law enforcement mentality to ensure re-election of our president.”
Commission Co-Chair Richard Jackson reported that the Commission’s Discipline Work Group met with the City of Cleveland on September 3rdto present their recommendation on new discipline policies for the Cleveland Police Department. He said he believes the new policy recommendations will make it easier to terminate a bad officer and also will allow existing officers to know what they can expect as discipline for various offences.
Under the proposed policies violations of policy are grouped in four categories. Group one offenses are to be disciplined with 1 to 6 days of suspension; Group 2 with 7 to 9 days suspension; Group 3 with 10 to 30 days suspension; and Group Four violations would result in automatic termination.
Jackson said having set penalties would mean “everyone gets the same thing regardless of what your last name is or who you know.” He said this would take away arbitration settlements and lawsuits based on cases where another officer received less of a penalty for the same infraction because of inconsistent discipline. He said the committee would be meeting again in October and November to fine tune the proposal and expected to have the policy wrapped up and ready to go to the Consent Decree Monitor by the end of the year. Jackson said, “Thank you to everyone who assisted with the discipline policy. It is a work of art.”
Commission Member Meg Testa reported on the Officer Wellness Committee’s work. She said the goal of the committee is to look at the current officer wellness policies and at best practices from around the country. The committee plans to do a needs assessment and work on recommendations for policy changes.
Commission member G. Maxwell reported on Homicide Investigations from a Community Perspective. She said they hope to find out from homicide victim’s families about their experience with the homicide unit. She said the group is having some difficulty reaching family members. She said families can share their experience with the homicide unit by sending her an email at gmaxwell@clecpcorg or calling Shalenah Williams at 216-857-3114 or emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Katz said there are ninety-three families in Cleveland where family members were victims of police brutality. He named a number of the family members and said he believed they would be more than willing to offer their input to the committee.
Co-Chair Fredrick Knuckles reported that the Youth Engagement Committee recently received notice that it will receive $18,000 that will allow it to offer stipends to city of Cleveland youth that wish to become engaged with the Community Police Commission. This he said will help with their goal of becoming more inclusive.
Commission Member Latoya Logan, who chairs the Accountability Committee, said as an advocate for justice she is concerned as a black woman that the police department doesn’t value her life. She talked about the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville Kentucky that resulted after police entered her apartment with a no-knock warrant. Logan asked why no knock warrants were allowed. She also expressed concern that Desmond Franklin was killed by an off-duty Cleveland Police Officer on Pearl Road in early April of this year and “and we still haven’t heard anything” about the investigation into his death. She said to her accountability means police officers should be subject to the same penalty as any citizen.
Logan said she sees the Consent Decree as a living document. Speaking to the community Logan said, “It is up to you to get involved.” She said the commission members are representatives of the community and need to know what police reforms people would like to see. She urged residents to go to the Community Police Commission’s website at clecpc.org and make sure you complete a survey. You can also go directly to the survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CPC-CSS-2020.
Logan also urged residents to contact Cleveland City Council members and express their concern that Cleveland City Council has increased funding for over-policing in Cleveland neighborhoods, but has not increased funding to address issues like homelessness, addiction and other social determinants of crime.
Professor Katz urged community members to get involved in an effort to make the Community Police Commission a permanent body that works toward police reform beyond the time period of the Consent Decree. He said a group called Committee for Police Accountability headed by Dave Lima was working toward this objective. Professor Katz said those interested in information about the group can contact him at email@example.com contact information.
Near the end of the meeting, CPC Co-Chair Sergeant Richard Jackson announced to the group that he would be resigning from the CPC in November. Jackson, who represents Black Shield on the Commission, said that Black Shield would be appointing a new representative. Jackson said he is retiring after 36 years as a Cleveland Police Officer.
The Commission elected two new co-chairs for 2021: Victoria Marion and Lewis Katz.