Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cleveland Community Police Commission Starts Up with First Public Meeting

The members of  the Cleveland Community Police Commission. ( Photo by Sheehan Hannan)
The Cleveland Community Police Commission held its first public meeting last night at St. Paul’s Community Church on the West Side.  Eleven commissioners were in attendance at the meeting in the church’s gym, seated in a row opposite a mural on the wall — a cross, modeled after the one outside the church, a rainbow of light exploding from its center. The 13-member commission, which was mandated by the city’s consent decree with the Justice Department, was sworn in Sept. 8. Here's a snapshot.
  • The program focused on bias-free policing and the civilian complaint review process. Ronnie Dunn, a professor at Cleveland State University, presented his research on the Civilian Police Review Board. For more on Dunn and his research, read my profile from April.
  • Absent were representatives from Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration and Division of Police brass, with the exception of Office of Professional Standards Administrator Damon Scott.
  • Taking the microphone, Scott expressed frustration with the commission’s decision to ask Dunn about the inner workings of the Office of Professional Standards rather than asking the department directly. After a brief verbal tug-of-war with co-chair Rhonda Williams, he calmly explained the civilian complaint procedure. Scott also clarified how the Office of Professional Standards handles complaints by minors, a question posed by commissioner Dylan Sellers. A guardian must file a complaint on their behalf; they cannot file on their own, he said. Scott may give a presentation at a later meeting.
  • There was a healthy City Council contingent. I spotted council members Matt Zone, Zack Reed, Brian Kazy, Dona Brady and Brian Cummins. Charles See, a member of the consent decree monitoring team and the head of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries Community Re-Entry Program, popped in for the latter half.
  •  Co-chair Mario Clopton said afterward that the Jackson administration has been very supportive. Police chief Calvin Williams has even shared his personal cellphone number with the commissioners, Clopton said.
  • The representatives from the three police associations — Steve Loomis of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, Lynn Hampton of Black Shield and Timothy Higgins of the Fraternal Order of Police — were mostly silent. Higgins and Hampton asked Dunn a few clarifying questions during his presentation. Beyond introducing himself at the beginning of the meeting, the usually outspoken Loomis stayed silent, though he appeared to be taking copious notes. For now, the more activist commissioners seem to be in the driver’s seat, headlined by the three co-chairs: Williams, Clopton and Craig Boise.
  • The commission is obviously still in its infancy. The group has not approved a set of comprehensive bylaws yet — something Clopton said he hopes the group will complete by the end of October. When ratified, the bylaws will be publicly released on the commission’s nonexistent website. After a suggestion from councilman Joe Cimperman at a City Council Safety Committee meeting earlier in the day, the commission will soon be setting up social media accounts. Notably, the commission doesn’t seem to have a city email address yet either, instead giving out a Gmail address.
  • There’s also no word on what the commission’s budget will look like — whether there will be an allowances for staff or office space, in particular. Currently, the commission relies on two volunteers to take meeting minutes: one from the Cleveland Foundation, the other from the city’s Community Relations Board. “We’re all our own researchers right now,” said Clopton.
  • Councilman Cummins said he hopes the commission will get the resources they need, though he prefers public funding over private — both of which are options outlined in the consent decree. “I’m very concerned about your capacity as a commission, given the fact that you all have full-time jobs and commitments,” he said, emphasizing the need for a full-time staff. “If we have to rely on private funding, I really question and am concerned about the sustainability of the commission’s work.” He is committed to finding sufficient funding for the commission within the city’s budget, he said. 
Future meetings will alternate between the East and West sides. All are from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.. Scheduled so far:
  • Oct. 28 at Elizabeth Baptist Church
  • Nov. 11 at Cudell Recreation Center
  • Dec. 3 at Trinity Cathedral
  • Dec. 17 at West Side Community House

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