by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, May 2014)Over 150 area residents came to the Second District Police Community Relations Committee on April 8th hoping to learn the reasons behind the sudden resignation of Second District Commander Keith Sulzer on March 24th. Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin D. Williams gave a brief outline of the conversation he had with Commander Sulzer that led to the commander’s resignation. Williams said he gave Commander Sulzer an assessment of what changes in policies and procedures needed to be implemented in the Second District. Williams said, “Commander Sulzer rebuked that assessment and at that time he decided to step down.”
Chief Williams refused to give any more details as to the content of the conversation he had with Commander Sulzer. He said he would not divulge the contents of the conversation between him and one of his officers. He said that if Keith Sulzer wanted to share the content of the conversation, it is up to him. Chief Williams said that he considers Keith Sulzer a friend and “didn’t make the decision lightly” to accept his resignation. In response to a question from the audience, Chief Williams said the shooting of two unarmed civilians in East Cleveland after a chase by police officers, including some from the Second District, “didn’t way in” on this decision.
Williams said, “Keith Sulzer has not left the Second District. He will still be very much involved in the Second District in his new role.” Sulzer is now a captain in the Division of Community Policing.
At the meeting residents also had an opportunity to meet the new Second District Commander Thomas Stacho. The new commander greeted residents at the door giving each one his business card. He said as commander he would ask two things of our officers, that they be “ Professional” and “Respectful.”
Commander Stacho said Keith Sulzer is his friend and a colleague in the command staff for five years. Commander Stacho said during the transition Sulzer has been helpful answering his calls “late in the night.” He said when he asked Keith Sulzer what he needed to do to be successful with the community, Sulzer replied, “You need to bulk up.” Stacho says Sulzer left him a bottle of “muscle milk.”
Stacho praised the Second District Police Community Relations Committee as the strongest community relations committee in the city.
Prior to Police Chief Williams’ comments and the introduction of Commander Stacho, a number of community members spoke. Second District Police Community Relations Committee Co-Chair Bob Shores said Keith Sulzer would want us to move forward and work with the new commander. Councilpersons Kevin Kelley, Joe Cimperman, Brian Cummins and Matt Zone all spoke of their positive experiences working with Commander Sulzer. Councilman Anthony Brancatelli, who could not attend, sent a letter, read to the group by Councilman Kelley. Each councilperson also asked for an explanation as to why Sulzer stepped down.
In his remarks Council President Kelley spoke of seven years of progress in the Second District under the Command of Keith Sulzer. He urged those present to continue that legacy “don’t let the marriage between the community and the Second District fall apart.”
Carol Romano, a member of the Second District Police Community Relations Committee for 32 years spoke of the efforts of Commander Sulzer to expand the role of the Second District Police Community Relations Committee. She noted his availability and willingness to talk to people in person at the committee meetings about their concerns. She noted Sulzer’s presence and involvement at fundraisers and benefits held by the committee and other neighborhood organizations.
Linda Dietrich, a member of the Police Community Relations Committee for 24 years spoke of Commander Sulzer’s donation of 35 bikes to the annual neighborhood bike-a-thon and his personal involvement in mediating disputes with problem neighbors.
Eleven-year-old Destiny Rice spoke of working side by side with Commander Sulzer’s at the annual Second District Police Community Relations Committee Children’s Christmas Party. She said, “I liked it when people thought I was his daughter.” Rice had many in the crowd choking back tears when she related that, “Commander Sulzer wished me a happy birthday when my own father didn’t come.”
Angela Caldwell of Mega Church spoke of Commander Sulzer’s comforting presence at her church following an incident that occurred in their parking lot. She asked that City Council members pass a resolution to declare a Keith Sulzer day to honor the former commander.
Speaking as a Second District resident, former Councilman and a member of the prosecutor’s office Mike O’Malley spoke of Sulzer’s efforts to get neighborhood residents involved in watching out for each other to make the community safer. He remembered a similar shock in the Second District on December 24, 1999 when “the axe fell” on then Second District Commander Gregory Baeppler. O’Malley proposed that Police Chiefs shouldn’t be able to remove district commanders for personal reasons that don’t have to do with performance. He suggested that City Council members or citizens acting through referendum change the city charter to make it more difficult to remove district commanders.
Editor’s Note: The Second District Police Community Relations Committee meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Applewood Center’s Jones Home at W. 25th and Daisy. The May meeting will be on May 13th.