By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (April 4, 2016)
CLEVELAND, Ohio — More than six months after a court-mandated Community Police Commission was set up for the city of Cleveland, members are reporting problems that they see as more than just growing pains.
In separate interviews and statements, commissioners reported feeling abused, overworked and having leaders that do not properly control the meetings.
Despite all that, the U.S. Justice Department,which entered into a settlement with the city over police use of force, and the court-appointed monitor said they planned for troubles at the beginning and that the work required of the commission is getting done.
The commission is a quasi-representative body for residents set up to make recommendations to the police department.
Stories of issues within the commission have circulated for several months. Some have complained of rowdy meetings, while others cite personality conflicts between members chosen to represent diverse backgrounds.
Tensions boiled over in March with the resignation of Cleveland police Sgt. Timothy Higgins, a member appointed by the Fraternal Order of Police. He was replaced by Sgt. Diedre Jones, FOP President Brian Betley said.
Higgins is the second member to resign since the commissioners were appointed in September. In a letter sent to Mayor Frank Jackson, Higgins wrote that the commission's leaders and other members do not give proper weight to the input made by himself and the delegates from the city's two other police union. He called the commission a "failed endeavor."
He wrote, "the co-commissioners have allowed disruptions from activists to delay and interrupt meetings at times twenty minutes at length. During mandatory public meetings, both have continued to allow unsubstantiated accusations toward myself and the other law enforcement commissioners of being Neo-Nazi, racist Ku Klux Klan, and even being ISIS."
(To read the full letter, click here or scroll to the bottom of the story.)
Steve Loomis, a commission member and the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, made similar comments in an interview Thursday. He said other members "are getting in cahoots together" and that it is hard to have meaningful discussions and to express the view of experienced officers.
Still, commission member Anthony Body said Loomis and Higgins may have cited problems because they are resisting change mandated by the settlement.
"If you're not progressive-minded, it's totally impossible to be for change and represent your union," Body said.
Not all of the problems have been personality driven, though. Lee Fisher, a commission member and the former lieutenant governor, said in an email that the lack of resources available to help what is a volunteer commission is frustrating.
"After only 6 months, I think some members understandably feel exhausted and burnt out," Fisher wrote, adding that he believes the required resources will soon be provided.
Matthew Barge, who is heading the team monitoring the city's progress under the settlement, said the commission has met the deadlines set by the court. This has included making extensive recommendations on police use of force and bias-free policing.
Barge also said members of the monitoring team have met with the commission to try to iron out some of the issues. Some of them are just part of an organization "still finding its sea legs," he said, as bylaws must be drafted, leaders must be chosen and the members must decide the scope of their work.
"I think that those kinds of frustrations are not indicative of a commission that is abjectly failing," Barge said. "Quite to the contrary, they are producing deliverables that are extensive and thorough."
Commission co-chair Mario Clopton agreed with Barge. He said that "those who have been on the commission have made a conscious decision to continue making sure that our work is speaking for itself."
He said he would rather let the commission's reports speak to its progress than statements that Loomis makes to reporters.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Mike Tobin wrote in an email that the Justice Department expected challenges, as they arise any time a new organization is formed.
"It takes a while to get up and running and to work through the challenges," Tobin's email reads. "We've seen similar experiences in other cities with similar bodies."
The commission's next meeting is scheduled for April 19. It is now accepting applications for an executive director.