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Citizen-Backed Charter Amendment Would Change Oversight Of Cleveland Police

Citizens for a Safer Cleveland members announce the charter amendment campaign's launch. Representatives from the Cleveland NAACP chapter, Black Lives Matter Cleveland and the ACLU of Ohio are part of the effort. [Citizens for a Safer Cleveland via Zoom]
photo of safer cleveland

A proposed amendment to Cleveland’s city charter would overhaul oversight of police discipline, policies and training. The newly formed Citizens for a Safer Cleveland launched its signature-gathering campaign Tuesday, in hopes of placing the amendment on November’s ballot.

If placed on the ballot in its current form and approved by voters, the charter amendment would establish a permanent Cleveland Community Police Commission (CPC).

“We must implement a structure, a permanent structure, of police accountability and oversight,” Black Lives Matter Cleveland co-founder LaTonya Goldsby said during the campaign’s launch. “We can no longer allow police to police themselves.”

The current iteration of the CPC was created under the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice as a forum for community input about the police department and making recommendations regarding department policies. The city expects to complete the requirements of the consent decree next year and has not said whether it intends to keep the CPC in place.

Under the proposed amendment, the commission would have a guaranteed yearly budget of at least $1 million and a separate grant making budget of 0.5 percent of the Division of Police budget each year. The commission would be made up of 13 members, to include one from each police district, one member under the age of 30, law enforcement representatives and attorneys who work on police misconduct cases.

“Let’s move beyond the debates and the frustration and let’s come up with a solution,” Cleveland civil rights attorney Subodh Chandra said. “And that solution is very simply this: greater civilian control over the Division of Police, greater civilian systems of accountability over the Division of Police.”

The Office of Professional Standards (OPS) and the Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) currently have limited outside oversight over the police department. OPS is a city agency that investigates only civilian complaints against Cleveland officers, presenting findings to the Civilian Police Review Board, which then can recommend disciplinary action to the department or dismiss the complaint.

The chief of police decides whether to follow such recommendations and, if there is disagreement, CPRB can make last appeal to the city’s Director of Public Safety, the member of the mayor’s cabinet in charge of police, fire and EMS.

The proposed amendment would put that final authority in the hands of a civilian oversight group.

“If the chief or the safety director believe that the board somehow got it wrong, then they have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that there is such evidence existing justifying disregarding or modifying the board’s factual or disciplinary recommendations,” Chandra said.

Citizens for a Safer Cleveland now has to gather signatures from 10 percent of the city residents who voted in the last general election, or about 6,500 signatures, to get on the ballot.

During a press conference on public safety Tuesday, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said he is opposed to the CPC taking on the role proposed in the charter amendment.

“I guess what they’re talking about is they would become the police chief,” Jackson said. “I’m opposed to the charter change they’re proposing.”

Jackson said he supports the current version of the CPC as laid out in the consent decree but did not say whether he would support the commission’s continued existence in a similar capacity after the consent decree is completed.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media who focuses on criminal justice.