Community Police Commission Finding Its Role in Reform Process
By Elizabeth Miller
Cleveland’s Community Police Commission is preparing feedback and recommendations on the city’s division of police. The 13 member volunteer commission was created by the consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice to represent the community. The group has extended deadlines, 1 member resigned in January, and some residents are calling for the removal of one controversial commissioner from his position.
At a recent meeting with community members, small groups discussed bias-free policing and compared Cleveland’s policy with other cities. The group hosts several meetings each month to ask residents what they want to see in a police department and to share progress on the Consent Decree.
This was Clevelander Laura Bishop’s first look at the commissioners’ work - and she liked what she saw. "I have a lot more confidence that positive things are happening than I had before I came," said Bishop.
The Community Police Commission, or CPC, will send its findings to the Consent Decree Monitor, the Cleveland Police Department, the city, and the US Department of Justice.
3 documents are due in March – an assessment of the police department’s bias-free policies, a summary of community input on the police mission statement, and feedback on police use of force.
Co-chair Mario Clopton says the group is working to meet new, extended deadlines. "The dialogue is intense sometimes, and sometimes it’s not," said Clopton.
"But these are the conversations we need to have to have this police reform happen."
The workload caused one member, Reverend Max Rodas, to resign. "I think it’s too much work. I think it’s too much time," said Rodas.
"I think the scope of the work is too large for a volunteer group of people."
Rodas devoted 8 to 10 hours weekly to the commission on top of his full time position as Executive Director of Nueva Luz Urban Resource Center.
"My motivation was always to make a contribution for the benefit of Cleveland," Rodas said.
"To the point, it was that motivation that basically told me, 'Max, you need to get out of the way.'"
Another commission co-chair and Dean of Cleveland State’s Marshall College of Law, Craig Boise also submitted a letter of resignation. Boise withdrew the letter days later.
Commissioner Reverend Yvonne Conner says the group’s workload is manageable with the help of the 15-member Consent Decree Monitoring Team.
"When we think there might be a conflict in terms of the time requirement, if we speak up, there will be others to help," said Conner.
The Monitoring Team has also pledged to meet with community organizations, establishing a network of "study groups" thorughout Cleveland. Consent Decree Monitor Matthew Barge says the groups will enable community members to comment on drafts of new police policies, procedures, and training.
Not everyone is happy with the community police commission, or at least one of its members. At a meeting this month, protesters from local group Black Man’s Army showed up. "We think Steve Loomis being here is completely out of touch," said Black Man's Army member Art McKoy.
"We don’t think he’s representing rights."
McKoy is referring to Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Steve Loomis. Last month, several police officers were let go because of their involvement in the 2012 case that came to be known as "137 shots". Loomis vowed to get them reinstated, stirring up controversy. Since his announcement, local groups and individuals have expressed concern about Loomis staying on the commission. The Consent Decree mandates that the CPC must include a member of the Patrolmen’s Association in addition to two other police association representatives. But commissioner Mario Clopton says the CPC isn’t in charge of who serves on the commission.
"What I do have to do with is making sure that Detective Loomis is engaged in the work so that his Police Patrolmen’s Association has a voice in this process," said Clopton.
The 12 commissioners come from fields ranging from social justice and community activism to academia and law enforcement. The group is all volunteer, and without any hired staff, all 3 co-chairs do a lot of the administrative work.
Matthew Barge, Cleveland’s Consent Decree Monitor, says that although the volunteer group is still developing a successful way of working together, they must do so quickly. Barge says that the group is still figuring out how to effectively use their time.
For Clopton, that means his days teaching choir at Shaker Heights City Schools are busier than usual.
"I teach second, third, fourth period. During lunch I’m reading police code, researching best practices in Newark, or Seattle, or responding to the monitor," said Clopton.
"And oh, by the way, I have to teach tenth period again."
The commission’s selection panel will find a replacement for Max Rodas. The next deadline for the CPC is March 2.