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Mayor-elect Justin Bibb's public safety task force takes up Issue 24, mental health responders

Police officers listen to Cleveland mayoral candidates speak during a primary forum in the West Park neighborhood. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
photo of cleveland police officers

Mayor-elect Justin Bibb’s task force on public safety is preparing to submit recommendations for the new mayor’s first 100 days in office.

The public safety task force was one of two task forces set up by the transition. The other is tackling city operations. In addition, 10 working groups are covering such topics as education, open government, the economy and modernizing city hall.

According to public safety task force member and former city councilman Zack Reed, the group is focused on four areas: starting up the police oversight measure Issue 24, reforming courts in Cleveland, establishing a city reentry office and working on community policing alternatives like mental health co-responders.

“It’s really a breath of fresh air,” said Reed, a former 2017 and 2021 mayoral candidate. “It’s not just talk with the new administration and the new mayor.”

Reed said the task force plans to have their recommendations ready for the mayor-elect on Dec. 27 before he takes office Jan. 3.

The incoming administration faces several challenges as it seeks to implement Issue 24.

First, Chief Calvin Williams is retiring on Bibb’s first day as mayor. Deputy Chief Wayne Drummond has been named interim chief. Bibb has said he plans to conduct a nationwide search before selecting a permanent replacement and hasn’t set a target date for making that choice.

Second, Issue 24 requires changes to the consent decree, which created the Community Police Commission and gave it an advisory role with no authority over officer discipline.

And third, the new mayor will have to select 13 commissioners for the CPC who meet a set of detailed criteria.  

The U.S. Department of Justice has asked a federal judge to set a Feb. 18 deadline for an agreement with the Bibb administration on modifications to the consent decree.

Reed, who opposed Issue 24, said the selection of new commissioners and whether to have them in place before a new chief is hired will be left up to the incoming administration. He said the task force is relying on work the Community Police Commission is doing to prepare for the transition to Issue 24.

On the other issues like court reform and reentry for the formerly incarcerated, Reed said the new administration is looking for new ways to make Cleveland safer. The task force is looking at other cities around the country that send social workers as first responders, along with police, fire and EMS.

“He said during the campaign there needs to be a fourth leg of the stool for 911 calls,” Reed said of Bibb.

Reed said he hopes the task force’s list of recommendations includes an ex-offender reentry office at City Hall. Cuyahoga County has a reentry office in Cleveland, but it’s near the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, not where people who need the services most can access them, Reed said.

“These services should be in the communities, because if we don’t give them services, they’re going to recommit crimes,” Reed said. “My gut feeling is he’s going to implement the recommendations that can be done in the first 100 days.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.