Public Safety requires passage of Issue 24
Public Safety requires passage of Issue 24
Public safety is clearly a major issue in this year’s Cleveland mayoral race. But safety is not just a matter of crime. Institutional racism and white supremacy have meant that police misconduct contribute too often to the lack of safety experienced by African Americans and other people of color. Passage of Issue 24 is essential for Cleveland and all who work or live in the city.
As a recent Plain Dealer editorial pointed out, Issue 24 may need to be revised going forward but initial continuity with the current Cleveland Community Police Commission will prove helpful.
It is helpful to understand that the proposed Civilian Police Review Board will not stand alone. Issue 24 makes permanent and more fully empowers the existing Community Police Commission established by the Consent Decree. And Issue 24 will also vastly improve the capacity of the existing Office of Professional Standards.
But the existing structures alone have not done the job. How many consent degrees, lawsuits, and deaths must Cleveland see before we see real change? By strengthening them and also creating a Civilian Police Review Board, Cleveland can provide some measure of redemption.
While Issue 24 may not be perfect, there are at least fourteen good reasons why any of its possible flaws will not prove serious. These checks and balances reinforce the fairness found in the full text of the measure.
- First, the Office of Professional Standards is required (115–4) to do a “full and complete investigation” of each complaint.
- Second, the Office’s Administrator (115–1) and the staff are civil service positions, not political appointments.
- Third, the Civilian Police Review Board’s composition (115–2) ensures representation from each police district, ensuring a solid city-wide overview.
- Fourth, Board members will be insulated from immediate pressure by assurances they can only be removed for serious misconduct (115–2).
- Fifth, the Board will be funded via a dedicated budget line (115–2) that is equal to 1% of the budget for the Division of Police (but separate from it).
- Sixth, the Board (115–3) will “make rules for its procedure and review of complaints.” Citizens should insist these be based on best practices found elsewhere in the country.
- Seventh, upon hearing a report from the Office of Professional Standards — itself based on a thorough investigation — the Civilian Police Review Board (115–3) may hold hearings and compel witness testimony.
- Eighth, the focus of the Review Board is not just on investigating individuals; if it concludes that Division of Police policies and procedures might be changed in some respect, they can so recommend (115–4). In some cases, for instance, rather than recommending officer discipline, the Board may recommend to the Community Policing Commission and the Chief that there be system change due to unclear policies about which officers often complain.
- Ninth, per (115–4), upon receipt of the facts and recommendations of the Board, the Chief or executive head of the police force may supply the Board with “clear-and-convincing evidence” that would “justify disregarding or modifying the Board’s fact finding and disciplinary recommendations.”
- Tenth, in addition to the role of the OPS’s investigative powers, and that of the Board, the Commission itself has the option (115–5) to so investigate. This “triangulates” the process, by permitting a second and third look at especially complex cases.
- Eleventh, the Community Policing Commission (115–4 and 115–5), “has the authority to make the final decision for the City about whether to impose officer discipline where it was not imposed, or to increase discipline when the Commission deems it insufficient.” In other words, there are checks and balances within the tricameral system of the Commission, the Board and the Office. And all are well insulated from direct Mayor or City Council interference.
- Twelfth, nothing in these provisions in any way diminishes the rights of Division of Police employees from taking advantage of any rights they have to arbitration.
- Thirteenth, Issue 24 actually protects officers (119–1) against unilateral discipline by the Chief, if there is a relevant pending case before the Board.
- Finally, (115–4) there is specific provision for any citizen to take legal action to “enforce all terms of the Charter’s sections,” protecting the complainant, the accused, and the public.
Issue 24 is not perfect, but neither was Issue 6 in 2009, when voters approved that County charter change. Later, voters further revised it. If Issue 24 needs to be tweaked going forward, that too is possible. But inaction after all of the suffering and deaths of our citizens and their loving families is not an option. Something must be done now, and Issue 24 is the best option.
Michael A. Dover, PhD, LISW is an emeritus faculty member of Cleveland State University
Originally published at https://therealdealpress.com on October 24, 2021.