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Cleveland pulls back on commander picks after police commission objects

Cleveland Police Chief Wayne Drummond addresses attendees of Community Police Commission during a meeting Oct. 13. Drummond told commissioners the police department would follow the rules laid out in the city charter.
Matt Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
At a meeting of the Cleveland Community Police Commission on Oct. 13, 2023, then-Police Chief Wayne Drummond told attendees and commissioners the police department would follow the rules laid out in the city charter.

The city of Cleveland is recalling the promotions of two police commanders, following an objection by the Community Police Commission.

On Feb. 6, Mayor Justin Bibb held a swearing-in ceremony for Kevin Kincaid, who was promoted to commander of the Bureau of Special Services, and Ralph Valentino, promoted to commander of the Fourth District.

But on Feb. 22, the city sent a letter to the CPC announcing it had converted the promotions to “interim.” In the letter, Chief Ethics Officer Delante Spencer Thomas said that, under the city charter, the CPC should have been involved in the promotion process.

“It has come to the Administration’s attention that the CPC was inadvertently omitted from the initial selection process for these promotions,” Thomas wrote. “[Cleveland Division of Police] assured my office that the oversight was unintentional and regrets any issue this caused.”

Kincaid replaces former Cmdr. Al Johnson, who was in charge of the Bureau of Special Services before an internal affairs investigation into the oversight of the Gang Impact Unit led to his demotion and a 30-day suspension.

Johnson has since left the Cleveland Division of Police to work for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department and sued the city and several members of the police department over the discipline decision.

Valentino replaces Cmdr. Maurice Brown, who was sworn in as commander of the Fourth District in December 2022 and now oversees the Bureau of Special Investigations.

“The Bibb Administration respects the CPC’s authority in CDP oversight, and recognizes the importance of community input in the City’s public safety operations — including the selection of its command staff,” Thomas wrote in the letter addressed to CPC Executive Director Jason Goodrick.

The city proposed a March 29 deadline for the CPC to make recommendations on the promotions.

“Our authority must be honored and until the CDP and the City of Cleveland follow the proper process for appointing commanders, as outlined in Charter 115-5, their promotions are unlawful and should be rescinded immediately,” CPC co-chair John Adams wrote in a Feb. 12 press release about the promotions. “In the future, we hope that the citizens of Cleveland can trust that their police department will not demonstrate such overt disregard for the laws they have taken a sworn oath to enforce.”

One of the many authorities given to the CPC after the passage of Issue 24 in 2021 is the “interviewing and recommending of candidates for police commander and inspector general to the Mayor.”

The commission has not asserted its authority to review any other commander promotions since the passage of Issue 24.

Adams said, in an interview Monday, the commission hopes to interview several of the applicants for Fourth District commander during a public event somewhere in the district before making a recommendation to the mayor.

“I think there's just over 20 applicants, so we're not looking at just these two commanders that they promoted,” Adams said. “We want to look at all of the candidates.”

The Fourth District, on Cleveland’s southeast side, is the busiest and most violent of the five police districts, data show. It had the most calls for service and homicides in each of the last three years, according to data from the Cleveland Division of Police.

The decision by the city to delay the promotions so the CPC could conduct its review came as a surprise, said Adams.

“I'm hoping that we can work with the city in a more effective way. Clearly, right now it looks adversarial,” Adams said, citing ongoing disputes over police records and the mayor’s rejection of its nominee for executive director. “The reality is that a lot of our dealings with the city have been dealing with legal stuff that we haven't really seen eye-to-eye on. But what I'm hoping is that we'll finally start working together.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.