Looking for Direction on Policing, Ohio Officials Turn to Community

Kareem Henton speaks at a Cleveland City Council listening tour meeting on the west side. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
Kareem Henton speaks at a Cleveland City Council listening tour meeting on the west side. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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GANZER: Let’s start, Nick, with Cleveland’s listening tours. What has been discussed at these?

CASTELE: City council in Cleveland announced these meetings after the Justice Department issued its report finding Cleveland police too often used excessive force. There was a hearing with the U.S. attorney here, and then there were these neighborhood meetings. And in all, hundreds of people turned out. Some people voiced their frustration with what they felt was poor treatment by police, others had specific ideas for reforms. Here’s a man named Kareem Henton at a meeting on the west side saying he knows officers who understand the communities where they work, but he says there are also officers with whom there’s a disconnect.

HENTON: When officers don’t live in the city, they’re coming into the city because that’s where they work. They come into the city, it’s like they’re coming into the war zone. So they look at us as the enemy.

GANZER: Nick, can we say any themes emerged from peoples’ comments?

CASTELE: Many people asked for the city to restore what’s known as community policing. These were officers stationed in Cleveland neighborhoods, they got to know the people who lived and worked there. That program was cut about 10 years ago -- the city pointed to declining revenue as one of the reasons. People also asked for police to be better trained to deescalate confrontations with people with mental illness who are in crisis.

GANZER: Do we have any clue as to what city council do next?

CASTELE: Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone is the chair of the safety committee. He led these meetings, and he talked about the next steps on the Sound of Ideas this week.

ZONE: The first phase of a thoughtful dialogue is to be a good listener. So within less than 60 days, we will have had 5 public hearings. We will have collected hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of comments. What city council plans on doing is actually issuing a report on what we heard. And within that report, we’re going to put action items.

CASTELE: We haven’t really heard what these action items might be. Ultimately it’s going to be the mayor who sets policy for the police, and he’s negotiating an agreement with the Justice Department over how police are going to change.

GANZER: Let’s pivot now to the statewide task force that Gov. John Kasich appointed. Nick, who’s on this panel, what exactly are they doing?

CASTELE: It’s a mix of current and former lawmakers, there’s also a police chief, a police officer on the task force, there are clergy members and other community leaders.

GANZER: What was talked about at the meeting this week?

CASTELE: People both on the task force and in the audience talked a lot about race, whether that’s diversity in police departments, or the danger that people of color face in some neighborhoods, or the way police and black communities get along. People also made some specific proposals – such as tracking data on race to measure possible racial profiling, or to have an independent body look into shootings by police. Here’s one person at the meeting, a well-known civil rights activist named Julia Shearson. She’s asking the state to put some money behind these proposals.

SHEARSON: We do have funds now in the rainy day fund for the state of Ohio, and I think it’s quite a substantial amount. I guess what I would say to our respected governor: It’s raining in Ohio.

CASTELE: And an Akron police officer on the panel noted that new, widespread programs for police could take some money – and he asked the public to be support of what the panel decides to do in the end. So next, the task force will be in Toledo, Cincinnati and at Central State University. And much like city council tour, the state task force will write a report. They’ll give that to the governor at the end of April. And after that, they might consider legislation or executive action.

GANZER: Nick Castele, thank you very much.

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