Cleveland City Council removes the city’s requirement to hire off-duty police officers at neighborhood block parties
by Lee Chilcote, The Land
(Plain Press, December 2020) Spurred by a grassroots, citizen-led petition that garnered more than 1,000 signatures, Cleveland City Council passed legislation at its November 18th meeting to remove the requirement for hired police at block parties. The proposed ordinance (523-2020), introduced by council members Kerry McCormack, Tony Brancatelli, Matt Zone and Basheer Jones, applies only to gatherings of 100 or fewer people; larger gatherings would still require security.
“We’ve all gone through the process of residents scrambling to find police and badge numbers when filling out the permit applications,” said Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack. “When we come out of COVID, we want to encourage gatherings without adding additional burdens.”
“It’s a big deal for our community to move forward with this,” added Ward 4 councilman Ken Johnson.
Council’s ordinance says the requirement to hire off-duty police “adds burdensome expenses for neighborhood groups trying to foster community connections” and that these administrative hurdles “conflict with widespread concerns about over-policing neighborhood gatherings.” Cities including Lakewood, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo “do not require permit applicants to hire police officers for neighborhood block parties.”
The ordinance was approved by the Committee of the Whole at its 10 am meeting and was moved to City Council in the afternoon for final passage.
While the initial legislation required that off-duty police be hired at small events where vendors are selling food or other merchandise, McCormack introduced an amendment to remove this requirement. Several council people, including Basheer Jones, said during committee hearings that they feared this stipulation would stifle small, neighborhood-based entrepreneurs. Vendors would still be required to carry the necessary licenses.
Petition organizer and Ohio City resident Angelo Trivisonno told The Land in May that the requirement to hire off-duty police at block parties is a social equity issue. “Is it necessary to ensure safety? Why are Clevelanders presumed lawless in some way?” he said. “I don’t think it’s because anyone actually thinks that … but to make that the official policy and required component of block party seems heavy handed.”
The petition argued the costs, which can be $280 or more per event, are especially high in a city in which 60 percent of residents live at or near poverty. “Consider the choice many face — pay the police or your block party is illegal,” the petition stated.
Julian Khan, a Buckeye resident, agreed. “You have people working 2-3 jobs trying to fill a void in the community, and they don’t have the resources to do that,” he said. “We never have the street shut down for anything but a bad reason. So, we don’t have block parties at all. In Cleveland Heights it’s normalized – you’ll see the street shut down with barricades and people sitting at tables in the street under tall trees.”
Khan said neighbor-to-neighbor gatherings can be a crime deterrent, yet the requirement to hire off-duty police actually deters small events. “Think about the history of policing in my neighborhood. How I was treated as a young kid, I have a lot of sour memories. In black and brown neighborhoods, who wants that presence? It’s always casting a shadow over the community and neighborhood, part of the larger shadow of the criminal justice system.”
“Without these spaces, would I ever know my neighbors?” he added, noting that many residents in his neighborhood do not have relationships with police officers. “Yet many times, people get to the point of identifying the police officer [on the permit application], and they ball it up and put it in the trash.”
Trivisonno made a public records request for block party permits from the city of Cleveland and said in interviews with residents it became clear that communities of color, and people lacking connections to police, were charged higher rates. Specifically, he found numerous instances in which residents in Ward 17, which encompasses West Park, did not pay for police. Either a police officer did it for free, or the councilperson helped to cover the cost. On the other hand, he found other communities where people did not hold events because of the bureaucratic hurdles or the steep costs.
“Part of the reason why the numbers of block parties being organized are low across the city is the large bureaucratic hurdles and the money that people have to pay for off-duty police,” Trivisonno said.
Editor’s Note: This article was produced and provided to the Plain Press by The Land. The Land is an online Newsletter that reports on Cleveland neighborhoods and inner ring suburbs. To subscribe to The Land visit: www.thelandcle.org.