Community members address impending Cleveland Police reform

Samuel Qian, Staff Reporter

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, a week before the two-year anniversary of 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s death at the hands of a police officer outside Cudell Recreation Center, an on-campus forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland discussed the Cleveland Consent Decree.

The Consent Decree, a deal the City of Cleveland negotiated with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), highlighted the reforms that Cleveland must make to its police department following an investigation of Cleveland police practices. The investigation had concluded that the CDP exhibited a pattern of using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Moderated by Mark Naymik, a metro reporter from, the forum featured three panelists: Executive Director of Community Relations Board of the City of Cleveland Blaine A. Griffin, Deputy Chief of the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) Wayne Drummond and Founder and Director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University Rhonda Y. Williams. The forum was a discussion between the panelists and the moderator, with some questions taken from the audience.

It began with Williams explaining the differences between “Broken Window Policing” and “Community Problem-Oriented Policing.” Broken Window Policing concentrates on nuisance and minor violations and tends to target the impoverished as well as racial minorities due to racial profiling. On the other hand, Community Problem-Oriented Policing works with the accountable community, prioritizes human dignity and respects and develops solutions that are not reliant on arrests.

To further differentiate the two policing strategies, Williams cited former Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, “We want our police officers to be guardians of this community and not warriors, so we put service first before the protection part, so that they learn the primary function of their job is to serve this city.”

The difference between the two also lies in their long-term effects. Williams said Community Problem-Oriented Policing is “about investing money and resources in people and their communities, and not just more police and policing.”

In terms of the steps that the CDP is taking towards reforming its policing, Drummond said that the city is ahead of schedule.

“The city is doing more than the Justice Department requires the City of Cleveland to do,” said Drummond. “We are committed to changing the search-and-seizure policies and to dive into bias-free policing.”

So far, the department has looked into implementing modern police technology, setting up police with body cameras and an email system. In the future, they will be looking for all police officers to have laptop-equipped vehicles.

Crisis Intervention Training is another reform being implemented. In this training, police recruits will be taught deescalation techniques and ways to interact with people who are experiencing a mental crisis. The program includes community service such as pizza with police, reading to children and ice cream socials. In short, Drummond hopes that the program will help the police see people from different backgrounds in a more positive light.

It was not long before mishap broke out during the forum. When discussing the effect that President-elect Donald Trump could possibly have on the Consent Decree, one audience member burst out multiple times in response to Naymik, claiming that the Consent Decree can be changed.

“It is a deal between the DOJ and City of Cleveland, and at the moment it can’t be changed no matter what the rhetoric is,” replied Naymik. However the audience member argued that it is “a false statement,” and that “they’ve changed it already because of deadlines” and “the Consent Decree can be changed by agreement of the city and the DOJ.”

Another member of the audience yelled back, “Would you just sit down and shut up?!”

People, shocked by his reaction, stood up and murmured all around the room until Williams calmed the situation and cleared up the controversy. “The Consent Decree can be changed, but it has to be changed according to the appropriate protocol,” she said. “The parties are the ones who have to agree to change the Consent Decree, but people can ask to have things change.”

The discussion not only focused on what the police are currently doing to reform policing, but also what the community could be doing. Drummond voiced his frustration that not enough people from the affected communities currently attend the Cleveland Police Community Commission meetings. Griffin acknowledged this complaint and said, “One of the most frustrating things was going into communities and cultures and recruiting, and being met with ‘I don’t want to be a police officer.’ Change is not a spectator sport.… If you want to change anything, you have to be a part of it.”

Finally, the conversation again shifted towards the presidential election, highlighting its relation to the Consent Decree and police relations. The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association endorsed President-elect Donald Trump, who is known to be critical of demonstrations against police and the DOJ’s involvement in police reform. Although the City of Cleveland and the DOJ have stated that they will move forward on the Consent Decree, Williams voiced some concern.

In an interview, Williams said that “given the vitriol that has infused the campaign and the political players, like [Rudy] Giuliani (Trump’s surrogate and former New York Mayor), currently being tapped for leadership in the next presidential administration, this is an equation for disaster and retrograde policies nationwide.”

“My belief in the need for community input and advocacy post-election remains the same as it did before the election,” Williams said. “People must be engaged. A consent decree can provide opportunities for enacting change, but it does not promise or automatically mean that substantive change will occur. People have to stay woke.”

There were various other reforms discussed, including an Early Warning System that investigates police backgrounds, and the implementation of the intercity bike track. Much controversy arose over the construction of the intercity bike track, as many people felt that the track was money wasted, but Drummond explained it was a way to foster a hobby of many formerly incarcerated individuals.

Overall, all three panelists members shared the same sentiments for the future, which was highlighted by Williams: “We also need shifts in perspectives, culture, paradigms, systems and institutions. It is critically important that we provide spaces where people can learn about and discuss very fraught issues, be encouraged to think in complicated ways, share their concerns, ask questions and get nuanced answers that aren’t mere sound bites.… Meaningful change of whatever kind, and this includes police reform, can’t happen with platitudes and only tweaks.”