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Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to form oversight board for police force

 Two RTA buses drive near Public Square in downtown Cleveland.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Two RTA buses drive near Public Square in downtown Cleveland.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is setting up a new oversight committee to investigate citizen complaints about police officers and recommend potential discipline or policy changes to the public transportation agency’s police chief.

The RTA’s board of trustees unanimously approved the creation of the seven-member committee on Tuesday.

RTA Police Chief Deirdre Jones told Ideastream Public Media that she worked on the proposal with command staff and others in the transit agency.

“It does create transparency, and I think it does instill confidence in the community that we hear their concerns and we’re willing to listen and make some necessary changes,” she said.

The committee will have the power to probe and “make recommendations for the resolution of” citizen complaints about officer misconduct. RTA will name an independent staff investigator to conduct investigations, interview witnesses and collect records for the committee.

The chief retains the final say in disciplinary decisions, Jones aid. Complaints against police are also investigated by the department’s internal affairs unit, she said.

Chris Martin, a member of the rider advocacy group Clevelanders for Public Transit, said that although the formation of the committee was a good step, the body should have been given more teeth.

“It is unfortunate, though, that the committee won’t have any real power to hold RTA police accountable,” he said. “The committee doesn’t have any actual enforcement power.”

Jones said that if she diverged from the committee’s recommendations, she would write an explanation for her decision.

“It’s not just the board, or the COC, makes the recommendation, and the chief says, ‘I’m not going to do that’ without providing any explanation,” she said. “Because providing the explanation, again, creates that transparency and that level of accountability that I think is necessary to build the public trust.”

Trustees will appoint committee members to staggered, three-year terms, picking from a slate of applicants recommended by a screening committee made up of the police chief, RTA general manager and CEO, board members and staff.

Under the legislation approved by the board, committee members must “reflect the Authority's customer base and have diverse representation in regards to age, sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, genetic information, sexual orientation, military status, transit dependence, and geography.”

At least one member must be a retired law enforcement officer, and members must “be free of any criminal history,” according to the legislation.

RTA will pay committee members $1,200 annual stipends. Members are limited to two consecutive terms. The agency plans to appoint and train members by the end of the year, according to a board presentation.

Last year, RTA’s then-acting chief ordered an officer to undergo de-escalation training for pushing a man off a train platform, according to WEWS. Cleveland prosecutors later charged the officer with misdemeanors, but asked to have those charges dismissed this year until a special prosecutor could be brought on to the case, Cleveland.com reported.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.