By Rich Weiss, for Neighborhood & Community Media Association of Greater Cleveland
If you missed your chance to attend the April 15th public input meeting on the Cleveland Police Consent Decree, your input is still needed for the upcoming Consent Decree Community Conversation at 6:00 pm on May 12 (on Zoom). This public meeting (co-sponsored by the local chapters of the United Way and NAACP) seeks your opinions and questions on progress of the Cleveland Division of Police in the areas of Crisis Intervention and Officer Wellness.
According to Roger Smith, Administrator of Cleveland’s Office of Professional Standards, “It’s really what the grassroots wants that should be driving this train. It’s important for public figures and people who work in public agencies to understand with clarity what it is the community wants, here—what role they want the police to play in their communities and what kind of rules do they want to govern those interactions. The only way to find that out is to get it from the community.”
Cleveland’s Mayor Jackson and several local community organizations requested the 2014 U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Cleveland Division of Police that found Cleveland Police engaged in law enforcement patterns and practices that broke Federal laws and violated the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Department of Justice cited patterns of excessive force, operational, and structural issues within the Cleveland Division of Police.
The City of Cleveland and U.S. Department of Justice entered into the Cleveland Consent Decree (a legally binding settlement agreement), which requires the Cleveland Division of Police to make specific, fundamental, and well-publicized changes to its policies, practices and procedures to correct violations and ensure Cleveland permanently adopt Constitutional law enforcement patterns and practices.
The Consent Decree also specifically mandates that the communities of Cleveland be involved in shaping new patterns and practices for the Cleveland Division of Police. Cleveland Division of Police compliance with Consent Decree patterns and practices is enforceable by a federal judge.
Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland, Kareem Henton, sees opportunity in the Consent Decree public meetings. “I hope that people take advantage of this opportunity to weigh into these series of discussions…I would hope that folks would participate so that your voice can be heard because, as it stands, we have very little participation on the part of the community.” He said, “Here’s folks’ opportunity to participate, ask questions, give some input, some accounts—with regards to your experiences—so that folks know that people in the community are not ok with the way that the process is going. We want police accountability, and we want community participation.”
Danielle Sydnor, President of Cleveland NAACP (conversation co-sponsor), said, “The series is accomplishing some of what we intended which is to make this conversation top-of-mind. We continue to hear from folks in law enforcement hoping to see this Consent Decree really lead to change; we’re hearing from the Office of Professional Standards that the biggest challenge to progress is lack of voice from the community; lack of continuing to push and make the administration aware that the community expects that change actually takes place. So, we now have much more interest.” Sydnor added, “The fact that we’re having these conversations with multiple media outlets; the fact that there are hundreds of people every month joining these conversations and then going back into their communities—that was the first step.”
Augie Napoli, President of United Way Greater Cleveland (conversation co-sponsor with Cleveland NAACP), involved his organization in the public meeting series to give the voices of the people in the community a place in Cleveland’s Consent Decree. “I think it’s important for everybody who makes decisions that affect other people’s lives—they’ve got to hear this stuff. They’ve got to hear the voice of the people. We believe one of our core goals is to give voice—to not only advocate on a high scale—but to give voice to people who don’t have a voice. Give them that opportunity to speak up, to allow their voice.”
Napoli emphasized the United Way is not a law enforcement organization; it is, however, mission-bound to be an advocate and voice for the people in the community to educate and to engage. He said, “So, if I can bring our organization and our reputation, our heritage, our legacy, our history, to bear on providing that, that’s what I should be doing. That’s my job.”
Cleveland Office of Professional Standards Administrator Smith said participating community members need not stay away for fear retribution for their questions or comments: “Importantly, we need to make sure community members understand that there can never be, and there won’t be any consequence to them accessing these services—because one of the concerns that you get from communities is that there will be some sort of retaliatory consequence if they try to access these services. In cases where people may recently have gotten citizenship or may be undocumented, things like that, they’re concerned about being reported if they access police services or access OPS services. They will not—in any way—face consequences for that.” Smith added, “We actually have a rule against retaliation which, itself, would subject an officer to discipline if there was any effort to exact those consequences.”The next meeting is at 6:00 pm on May 12, and the theme will be Crisis Intervention and Officer Wellness. To answer the call for your input, your concerns, and your questions, register for this or any of the six other remaining Consent Decree public meetings by visiting unitedwaycleveland.org.