'Our Land': Head Of Patrolmen's Association Talks Community Policing

Det. Stephen Loomis (Tony Ganzer/WCPN)
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by Tony Ganzer, ideastream

Today we continue an occasional series on community policing in Cleveland. This series highlighting some perspectives of community members on how they see community and police relations, as the city is already working to transform the division of police within and beyond the framework of a consent decree with the Department of Justice.  Today we hear from Detective Stephen Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association.  Ideastream's Tony Ganzer began the interview as all interviews in this series begin—asking what should community policing look like, and how far are we from it?

LOOMIS: “We’re miles from it.  What it should look like?  It should look like police officers interacting with the citizens out there, particularly the kids, in a non-enforcement type of capacity. And the only way that you can accomplish that, is by having enough police officers to do that.  If you have two police cars in every zone of the city, then you can effectively have community policing because the people in those communities are going to get to know those officers very, very well; the officers themselves are going to know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are. And that is community policing, not, you know right now we have guys walking the neighborhoods.  That sounds nice, but it’s not reality…”

GANZER: “Why isn’t it reality?”

LOOMIS: “Well, because it’s, number one you’re taking a police car off the road, and our main purpose in life is to answer radio assignments, and our response times are suffering because of that.  You know, it’s not something that’s prolonged, it’s so the chief can say ‘hey yeah, I’ve got guys out walking foot beats.’ Well, no we don’t.  That’s the reality. That’s just a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that we have, and it is a problem.”

GANZER: “It’s interesting that you mentioned walking the beat, because I spoke to Willie Jones—he’s a resident of the Cudell neighborhood—and here’s what he said:”

JONES on tape: “Well, I think community policing should look more like getting out of the squad cars, interacting with the public, you know, walking back the beats like they did back in the 70s and the late 80s.  Just interacting with the people.”

GANZER: “What do you think of that?”

LOOMIS: “Yeah. I think it’s a great idea.  If we had the manpower to do that effectively and not diminish the safety of the police officers that are out there answering radio assignments, and therefore the citizens who need us, yeah tremendous idea.  We’re not reinventing the wheel here.  In 2003, we had a significant community policing unit.  They developed relationships, and they got a lot of information, and that’s sorely missed.  But we have to be very, very careful not to knee-jerk our way back into that.  You have to be willing to throw the resources at it that you need to develop a good, effective community policing.  You know it’s all about communication. And I learned very quickly in going to these community meetings that I get invited to, I never really stopped to think about it, but that is really all they see is policemen in police cars zipping back and forth and not stopping.  What they don’t understand is that they don’t have time to stop because we’re so understaffed right now, and they literally are from going run, to run, to run.  I was able to convey to the folks that: there’s not a policeman out there who wouldn’t love to sit and play basketball with kids for a little while, or throw the football around, or just let them—the little guys really like yelling on the loud speakers.  You know, that’s how you develop those relationships and it’s got to start at a very young age.”

GANZER: “I think some people would argue that the bread-and-butter may be reactionary, that we’re reacting to crimes in the community, but some people would like to see more proactive…”

LOOMIS: “Yeah.”

GANZER: “…measures from the police, to where even just a smile or a few minutes, that may collectively make the neighborhood feel a little safer.  Do you agree with that?”

LOOMIS: “Yeah, absolutely.  Absolutely.  I would love to have proacting police units back.  We don’t.  You can’t get rid of 500 police officers in a three-year period of time from 2003 to 2006 and then expect things to be the way that they were.  Those are decisions that politicians made.”

Find more parts of this series here.

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GANZER: “You mention a lot about a need for more resources for the officers, but as you’ve heard yourself in community meetings, the public feels frustrated against the officers themselves, and there does seem to be a perception issue between especially communities of color and where the police are coming from.  Can you address this rift between the community and police?”

LOOMIS: “Yeah.  You know, I’ve asked before—I’ve asked the editors of Plain Dealer—you know, I’d like somebody to define for me what ‘community’ is, because the folks that come to these meetings—and I  have nothing against any of them—but the folks who come to these meetings have somewhere in their life have had a negative experience with the police, whether it was them personally, or a family member, or somebody like that, when you open these meetings up to the general public what you end up getting are people that are pissed off.  You don’t have what we’re seeing, what we’re literally seeing, is an outpouring for the police officers, like I haven’t seen in 21 years, 22 years now. People just randomly coming up to our officers and thanking them for being out there; picking up lunch bills, the guys go to pay their dinner bill and the store owner will tell them somebody just paid it on their way out the door; so we’re seeing a tremendous outpouring of support. So when we start talking about ‘the community’ I question who exactly the ‘community’ is that we’re talking about.  There are people that have had negative experiences with the police, I understand that.  I’m not the guy that’s going to sit here and say that ‘we are without sin.’  We have a very difficult job to do, and we have to make decisions based on the actions of others.  That’s what we’re trained to do.  We’re not going out looking for problems, we get called to problems and then we deal with them best that we can, and sometimes folks don’t like how we deal with them. Tough. I mean, it really is, we have to deal with the situation, we have to control the situation.  And people have their complaints, that’s fine, this is America, I’m glad to listen to their complaints. But as far as the general—the media makes everything look like there’s huge numbers of people out there, and the reality is here in Cleveland we’ve had protests and marches on some very controversial issues.  Tamir Rice is a very controversial issue, by all accounts, and a very tragic case by the way, and we have 20 or 30 people that are marching in protest and laying down in the street.  We don’t have 3,000 people, we don’t have 300,000 people.  The reality is that the City of Cleveland police department uses force 3.5% less, our use of force ratio is 3.5% less than the national average.   It’s 3.8% less than the city of Cincinnati that just came off this consent decree.  On occasion this is a violent job.  It might surprise some people out there, but there are people that don’t want to go to jail, and they will fight with us, they will kick us, they will spit at us, they will try to provoke us into a reaction, now with all the video cameras and everything out there. And they just generally don’t like the police because we’re the ones that are out there keeping them from being able to do whatever it is that they want to do. ‘No justice, no peace’ers, you know, do you want us to go away? We’ll go away.  What’s the answer to that?”

GANZER: “I don’t think anybody’s saying the police should go away, but there is a feeling of certain communities being focused on more than others. And they don’t--”

LOOMIS: “Sure, the communities where there’s crime,  that’s where the police focus.  That’s where police are called to by the way.  There’s not a neighborhood in the city that doesn’t have the majority of the people in it don’t have a respect and want the police there, not a neighborhood in the city.  There’s neighborhoods where people can’t be outwardly with that because the bad guys in the neighborhood will go after them for it, and that brings us round-robin right back to these community meetings.  You know, God-fearing, law-abiding citizens don’t generally go to those community meetings because, to be quite honest with you, they don’t want to get beat up—not physically, but verbally.  I’ve been in these meetings where people have stood up and said ‘hey, the police are doing a great job’ and people were throwing eggs at them.  And who wants to put yourself into that situation. You know, it’s a very, very hostile group, it’s a very vocal group, and they believe what they believe, and that’s fine. But the reality is that we had 36,000 arrests in the city of Cleveland last year, and we had less than 400 uses of force.  Do the math on that.  You know, that means 35,600 people got arrested with no problem whatsoever professionally, no complaints, no violence, no injuries, no anything. 36,000, or 35,600* people got arrested in the city of Cleveland with no problem. 400 folks didn’t want to go to jail. You know, I mean, that’s the reality of the work.”

*Det. Loomis cited the Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center for his data. The City of Cleveland, in a 2015 press conference, presented different arrest figures from 2014, seen below:

 

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