What We Learned From The First United Way/NAACP Community Conversation On Police Reform

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The United Way of Cleveland and the local chapter of the NAACP hosted a community conversation with members of Cleveland Police, the public, and several top professionals working with the police on reform. 270 participants attended. 

Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald B. Adrine hosted the panel discussion with guests including Police Chief Calvin Williams, Community Policing Commission Executive Director Jason Goodrick, NAACP Cleveland Chapter President Danielle Sydnor, and Hassan Aden, the Monitor assigned to oversee the progress of the implementation of the Consent Decree, among others. 

City of Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry explained the many reforms already implemented by CPD: “We created the Cleveland Community Policing Commission [CCPC] to provide a formal way for the city to get advice from the community. They have a mandate to engage with the community and the police. We also established a mental health advisory board made up of representatives from the community who work in that area. We conduct community surveys under the direction of the Monitor every two years of the Consent Decree, and we agreed to provide more transparency.”

“We went through all our policies, particularly use of force, reporting, investigation, crisis intervention, discipline, and designed a disciplinary matrix and bias-free policing policies. We made changes to how the use of force is investigated. We established revamped force investigation teams [“FIT” in the Decree], a Force Review Board [“FRB” in the Decree]; we hired a civilian internal affairs supervisor.” 

“We agreed to enhance data collection. We hired a data collection coordinator. There are new methods and analysis for stops, searches, and seizures, data for the use of force, crisis intervention activities…we are doing data collection on the interactions of the police with the community during their regular shifts. We upgraded our computer-aided dispatch [CAD] system, instituted an inventory management system, and have provided for in-car reporting.” 

Goodrick expressed concern about transparency, stating that it is one of the “core values” of the Decree: “There’s a difference between collecting data and sharing data, and I think it’s very difficult to ascertain other than through stories where exactly we are in the Consent Decree without good, transparent data that’s accessible. Scene Magazine just initiated a lawsuit against the Cleveland Division of Police for not sharing use of force reports, which is a quite significant part of the Consent Decree.”

Goodrick says even he has struggled as part of CCPC to obtain data from the police.  

Monitor Hassan Aden said about transparency, “It’s a work in progress. There are areas we would like to see improved with regard to data sharing. For example, if you go and look for a Cleveland Police policy on the city website, it’s very difficult to find a specific policy. What you’ll find is one PDF that has hundreds of pages with all the policies listed in [“GPO” – General Police Orders]. The city and the CPD have agreed to work with us to really peel back all the layers. It’s very basic transparency, and it’s not unique to Cleveland. A lot of departments put everything in PDFs, throw it up there and say ‘oh, it’s accessible to the public,’ although it’s very hard to navigate. We pointed out to them [CPD] it’s something that’s necessary to continue to gain the public trust.” 

Danielle Sydnor of the NAACP believes the police still have a long way to go. “Even with the Decree,” she says, “even with these asked-of reforms, we as a community don’t see that this has gone far enough. I think the complaints we will still receive to our office, the number of incidents that have taken place in Cleveland since the Decree was enforced, really demonstrates to us that while we are seeing incremental reform – we absolutely do see some policies that have changed – we still as a community believe that we need to see more reform.”  

Police Chief Williams says that the numbers of use of force incidents, injuries, and complaints against police have all come down. He stated that between 2011 and 2014, the average number of use of deadly force incidents was 20 per year. Since 2015, that average has dropped to 4.   

“We’re still in the process of reform,” says Williams. “We’re not done yet. To folks that say they haven’t seen enough, I haven’t seen enough either. There’s work for us to do and we’re committed to completing this work.”

Aden commended the department on the progress that’s been made so far and agreed with Williams that there is much more work to be done, citing the areas of communication, culture, and training. Although he says there is “no training that will end implicit bias,” and bias is something we all have in some form, “one of the key things we try to get in training is the notion of recognizing, and then disrupting your bias.”

Sydnor says the Black community needs to hear ‘I’m sorry’ from the police department. “What the community needs, if we’re going to move forward in a way that we can work together, is to have that acknowledgment, and to have it consistently. The Decree isn’t the only time there was an acknowledgment that something went wrong. There are consistent things that have happened even since the decree was handed down, and the community is aware of that. We live it, we see it every day. While we acknowledge the progress that is made, in the community, we are at a place where we are no longer comfortable with just incremental progress. We are looking for radical imagination that says we can look at how to make communities safer in a different way.”  

This panel discussion was the first in a ten-part monthly series hosted by the United Way and NAACP in Cleveland to open up the public discourse around the Consent Decree and police reform.