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City council questioning of new Cleveland police monitor draws the ire of Samaria Rice

 Woman stands alone, closeup
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Samaria Rice left the presentation of the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team early, upset by what she deemed a failure of City Council to take the Monitoring Team seriously.

While Cleveland City Council members got a chance Wednesday to hear for the first time from the newly named Monitor overseeing police reforms mandated by a 2015 federal consent decree, some of their questions angered Samaria Rice who walked out of chambers frustrated and upset.

Rice, who said she's still grieving the death of her 12-year-old son Tamir who was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer in 2014, said she feels like council members are standing in the way of meaningful progress and change in the city’s police department.

“I’m just aggravated because [City Council members] are acting like they don't know what’s going on here,” she told Ideastream Public Media on Wednesday. “We’ve been doing this for eight years … Everybody in there needs to resign their jobs and start from scratch.”

 woman sits and with head cocked
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, listens to questioning from the City Council members during the presentation by the new Police Monitor, Karl Racine.

Her frustration came after a line of questioning from council members over progress in the city’s federal consent decree, an agreement entered into by the city in 2015 to address police reforms after a Department of Justice investigation found a pattern of excessive use of force within CPD.

Over the past eight years, the city has spent millions of dollars for federal monitors. And while new Monitor Karl Racine commended city and police leadership for making “demonstrable progress,” the most recent semiannual report found Cleveland is actually losing ground on police reform: falling from 42.5% compliance to 39% in the second half of 2022.

Much of the conversation focused on what some council members perceived as steep hourly rates for the team of monitors, led by Racine who presented before council in Wednesday’s public safety committee meeting.

 three people seated in front of microphones look forward
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Karl Racine, flanked by Police Monitoring Team members, Dr. Ayesha Bell Hardaway (right) and Abby Wilhelm (left), speaks before City Council.

Some members of the 27-person team, 15 of whom are full-time, make up to $250 an hour. Historically, Racine notes, a $1.1 million cap is not exceeded in any given year and 20% of their billable time is free to the city.

Still, council members like Ward 16’s Brian Kazy dug in. After a line of questioning about pay, he asked if the other two monitors sitting in the audience would bill the city for attending the meeting and “not participating.” He said it doesn’t sit well with community members whose tax dollars are funding work on the consent decree.

Woman turns page of binder seated at conference table with others.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Ayesha Bell Hardaway answered questions from Ward 16 Council Member Brian Kazy toward the end of the meeting.

Racine pushed back to defend his team and their pay, saying they will leave “happily” once the consent decree is completed.

“I respectfully completely and totally disagree with the suggestions you make,” Racine said. “I have seen quite the contrary: extraordinary commitment, a lot of hard work… If you look at the individuals in this room, since that’s who you refer to, they have been engaged in the community for decades."

Kazy also asked about the metrics the monitors use to determine compliance and how they “check the box” to present findings to a judge, who will decide when to relinquish the city from the consent decree.

“The work of organizational transformational and constitutional policing that’s deserved by the community is not ‘check the box,'” Deputy Monitor Ayesha Bell Hardaway said in response. “It is not subjective. There is an entire discipline of creation of data.”

The discussion upset Rice as she waited nearly two hours for her chance to make a public comment, leaving before she had the chance to do so.

“What difference does it make how much the monitor needs to be paid?” she told Ideastream outside the committee room. “It’s a necessity that needs to be here in the city of Cleveland.”

Rice singled out Public Safety Chair Mike Polensek, who led the meeting, for bringing up the monitors' pay and asking what she felt were repeated questions council members should already know nearly a decade into the consent decree.

“If there had not been so many murders and no accountability, maybe the monitor wouldn’t even be here,” Rice said. “City Council can’t do the job … You coming in here like you want to attack the monitor? You cannot attack this monitor. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do.

“I don’t care if it costs $500 an hour. Pay him,” she continued. “That’s what he’s here to do. To make sure the city is in compliance.”

After Rice left, Councilmember Stephanie Howse criticized her colleagues for filling the time with their comments and leaving little room for community discussion. She said public testimony should come first, saying Rice came early to make her voice heard before ultimately exiting chambers.

“Community members are not being paid to be here. We are,” she said. “We are here because [Rice] lost her baby. She lost her baby. … We should do better.”

Ygal Kaufman contributed to this story.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.