The city of Cleveland is making changes in its police top brass, as it continues to face scrutiny for its use of deadly force. ideastream’s Nick Castele reports the police chief is getting a promotion.
Mayor Frank Jackson is promoting police chief Michael McGrath to head the Department of Public Safety, and promoting McGrath’s deputy chief, Calvin D. Williams, to replace him.
Retiring Safety Director Martin Flask will take a newly created position as assistant to the mayor.
Williams is a 27-year veteran of the police force. At a swearing-in ceremony, he said as chief he’d work to build a better relationship with the public.
“An integral component of our partnership includes strengthening the public’s confidence in the integrity of the division," Williams said. "We’ll work to make sure that we strengthen that confidence.”
Williams is African-American, and his promotion comes shortly after City Councilman Zack Reed criticized the administration and council president for not awarding more top public safety positions to black officials.
Jackson dismissed suggestions that race played a role in Williams' hiring, saying he chose the new police chief only for his qualifications.
Meanwhile, a county grand jury is still deliberating whether to charge 13 police officers in the 2012 shooting that killed two unarmed people after they led police on a lengthy car chase. Some critics have questioned whether race played a role in the shooting, noting that the two people killed were black, while most officers who fired their weapons are white.
The city has already disciplined numerous officers in that case, and the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating police use of force practices.
Newly sworn-in safety director McGrath acknowledged the force has faced challenges.
“We’ve been through some difficult times," McGrath said. "But I’d like to say we’ve been through some more happy times and successful times.”
Cleveland's police unions have criticized McGrath for his handling of the aftermath of the 2012 chase and shooting. Brian Betley, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said he hopes the union will continue its working relationship with Williams as the division's new head.
Mayor Jackson brushed off suggestions that the promotions would get the city out ahead of more difficult news when the grand jury returns its decision.
“Everyone knows the conspiracy,” he said, adding, “Usually, they’re not correct.”
With reporting by ideastream's Bill Rice.