By Jane Morice, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sep. 21, 2016)
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Three days after the November 2014 afternoon when a Cleveland police officer shot Tamir Rice, Mayor Frank Jackson, police Chief Calvin Williams and other officials spent hours fielding tense questions and enduring heavy criticism from an angry public.
Close to two years later, the scene at another forum on policing resembled a corporate retreat, where moderators spoke to small groups of Cleveland residents about their current perception of the police department in a city in the throes of police reforms outlined in an agreement with the Justice Department.
For the second time in a week, the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team held a meeting to encourage the community to provide feedback on a proposed use-of-force policy that, if passed by the city council, would represent one of the most dramatic shifts in how police officers deal with the public.
Cleveland Police Monitor Matthew Barge explained to the more than 50 attendees the most significant changes in the proposed policy that would give police officers much clearer standards for when they can use force.
Among those changes include allowing officers to use force only when absolutely necessary; officers must try to exhaust all de-escalation techniques before applying force; officers must provide medical care to people who are injured and officers who see their fellow officers using too much force have a duty to intervene.
Tuesday's meeting came a day after Tulsa, Oklahoma officials released video of a man, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, shot and killed by police there once again thrusting the topics of use-of-force and police reform back into the national spotlight. The residents who attended made their primary concern clear: how will officers be held accountable for use-of-force abuses?
While the monitoring team found that many of the mechanisms used to field community complaints is fundamentally broken, the public has been repeatedly assured that the department is committed to fixing that system.
At least half of the groups voiced concerns regarding officers' training to de-escalate tense interactions and more effectively communicate – actions for which officers will be held accountable.
The member of one group expressed lingering concerns about how police officers engage with Cleveland residents. She said that it seems like officers approach a situation with too much aggression, and said that she wishes they would "cool off" and "speak softly" when trying to assess a problem.
"Sometimes it makes you wish you didn't call in the first place," another member of her team said.
Williams and U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon attended and spoke at both Thursday's forum at the Jerry Sue Thornton Center at Cuyahoga Community College on the East Side and Tuesday's meeting at the Urban Community School on the West Side. They stressed how important community involvement is to the reform efforts.
"It's all well and good for us to sit in a room and talk about how things should be, and how our department should be a model for the nation. But that doesn't work – it doesn't work in isolation," Rendon said. "We're a community and this is our police department. Unless we know what it is that you want & what you need, what's of concern and interest to the community, then we can't do our jobs effectively."
Williams added to Rendon's comments by encouraging interested residents to take ride-alongs with police officers in order to see how policy is put into action.
"We don't have anything to hide," he said.
The suggestions put forth Tuesday night will be added to those offered at Thursday's meeting, and the monitoring team will adjust the policy in the weeks to come. Monitor Barge emphasized during his initial presentation that the policy is not finalized.
The monitoring team is responsible for piecing together recommendations on future policies, such as how use-of-force incidents will be reported and investigated by the department. Monitoring team members said that similar community input meetings will be held once those pieces of policy are completely drafted.