WCBE

Hopes And Expectations Surround Police Reform Agreement

May 27, 2015

Cleveland leaders and federal officials jointly presented a 105-page document yesterday that they say will reform the city's police department. 

The consent decree is a court-enforceable list of changes spurred by a critical U.S. Justice Department report released last winter. Brian Bull of member station WCPN in Cleveland reports.

The flashpoint for the Department of Justice review was the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.  More than 60 police cars chased the two on November 29th, 2012.  When Russell pulled into a dead-end middle school parking lot, surrounding police emptied 137 bullets into his Chevy Malibu, killing both him and Williams.  No weapon was found in the vehicle.  One police officer was charged with manslaughter and five police supervisors were charged with dereliction of duty.  Questions were quickly raised as to how the situation got out of hand. 

OpenMic01: “….so I would like to suggest that some kind of a forum be, an…independent authority.  A community grand jury, whatever you want to call it, be formed, to police the police…” (APPLAUSE) 

After the Department of Justice report came out in December detailing what the DOJ called a—quote—“pattern or practice of the use of excessive force” in the Cleveland police department, public hearings were held across the city to get community input for reforms. Concerns about police response to emergency calls were still heightened then.  Just a month earlier a rookie officer shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, after the boy was spotted carrying a realistic-looking pellet gun.  And before that, 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson died while in police custody, which the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner deemed a homicide. 

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mayor Frank Jackson heralded the newly-signed consent decree. 

MJackson01: “This agreement will serve as a catalyst for us to do those things necessary to ensure that we do not have to do these kind of things again, or have the results that we’ve had in the past with the Division of Police and the citizens in the City of Cleveland.” (:16) 

The agreement packs a lengthy list of reforms, including the creation of a Community Police Commission, the formation of a Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, and the hiring of an Inspector General to review police protocols and their compliance with state and federal law. 

Prior to the official unveiling of the agreement, the Justice Department on Tuesday morning briefed community activists, clergy, police union representatives, and others. 

(FADE IN PRAYER RALLY AMBI, HOLD UNDER NEXT TWO CUTS) 

Two representatives of Greater Cleveland Congregations attended the briefings, before attending a peaceful rally in downtown Cleveland.  The Very Reverend Tracey Lind, Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral…

TLind02: I’m hopeful and prayerful always, because I’m a person of faith, and we’ll keep working as Greater Cleveland Congregations, to call for that accountability, transparency, funding and implementation.” (:11) 
…and the Reverend Jawanza (jah-WAHN-zah) Colvin, Pastor of Olivet (olive-ett) Institutional Baptist Church.  
JColvin01:  “Our goal is to ensure that it will be implemented, it will be monitored, and it will fully be integrated into the life of the Cleveland police department and our city, so we never have to come to this point again.” (:10) 
(FADE AMBI OUT) 

Another person briefed by the DOJ was Ronnie Dunn, a professor of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University.  He served on Governor John Kasich’s task force on Community Police Relations.  Dunn says the timing of this agreement—right after the “not guilty” verdict for Officer Michael Brelo – could not have been coincidental. 

RDunn01: “Obviously the officials knew the timing of both the verdict and then this.  So I think it will go some ways in helping to at least give the community a sense of positive outlook, that things are headed in the right direction.” (:18) 

Steve Loomis, President of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, is cautiously hopeful.  During his briefing with the DOJ he was told that the new Community Police Commission would be made up of 10 members, including three from local police organizations.  Loomis says while he appreciates the community input, the success of the commission and other monitoring parties will depend on who’s ultimately overseeing them.  

SLoomis01: “If it’s somebody that’s well respected in the community and well-respected by the Police Department and police officers in general, it’ll be a good thing.  Y’know at the end of the day, God himself could come down here and provide oversight as long as the oversight that’s provided, is respected.  That’s the key.” (:19) 

Loomis says he hasn’t reviewed the entire consent decree yet.  But he warns it’s important for people not to see the settlement as a “cure all” arrangement.  Still, he’s glad that Clevelanders are talking about ways to improve police practices and community relations.