by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, April 2017) A Community Forum was held at Urban Community School on March 22nd, to discuss forming a Community Policing Plan in response to the Consent Decree between the City of Cleveland and the United States Justice Department. Members of the Monitoring Team stressed to residents and stakeholders the importance of recruitment, training and staffing in creating a community policing force. They talked about finding ways to recruit people that are “open-minded, good at communication, have cultural competency and are open to new experiences.” They also asked the audience to look at ways to make the police force more diverse and representative of the community.
To that end, after the crowd of about 100 people was divided into groups for discussion, many proposals were presented as residents interacted with police officers and members of the monitoring team to come up with ideas.
Several ideas involved changing the system of credits given on the civil service test for becoming Police Officer in Cleveland. Currently, the City Charter allows ten credits to be given to an applicant for just one year as a resident of the City of Cleveland. Residents felt that one year was too short a time to allow for so many credits. They suggested giving applicants one credit for each year, up to ten years, for living in Cleveland. In that way, the Cleveland Police Department would be assured of getting more long-term, Cleveland residents with more to offer in terms of existing relationships with Cleveland residents, community organizations and institutions.
In addition, residents suggested that the five additional points for military service should be scrapped. They said the extra points for military service tilts the personnel in the police force and leads to the militarization of the force. Instead, residents suggested five credits be given to candidates who have completed an Associate Degree or College Degree in a related field (Criminal Justice or one of the Social Sciences) at a Cleveland Based College—i.e. Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland State University or Case Western University. Again, the expectation would be that the graduates would have developed relationships with Clevelanders, organizations and institutions in Cleveland that would be of value in helping with Community Policing.
As a recruiting tool, it was also suggested that the City of Cleveland advertise the fact that it will pay for college courses as continuing education credits. Thus, letting people know that becoming a police officer could be a way to pay for a college education.
It was suggested that recruiting police officers start in elementary and middle school, and officers be hired for their character and have an opportunity to gain skills through the Police Academy and continuing education. One idea was to offer Cleveland students scholarships and aid in studying for the police test.
Another suggestion to help officers and community members in handling nuisance complaints in the neighborhoods, was to have a more robust system than the Mayor’s Action Line. One suggestion for a system, was to assign a tracking number to every complaint. By following the tracking number online, residents and police officers would be able to follow complaints until they are resolved.
In addressing the community problem of vacant and abandoned houses, residents suggested police officers work with students from Max Hayes construction program to help rehab houses. Officers could help with the work and provide security. The high school students could gain needed skills and the finished house could be turned over to a family in need either through Habitat for Humanity or the Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services. This would be a way not only to involve officers with young people in the community, but to also benefit a family in need of affordable housing and remove a potentially dangerous eyesore from a neighborhood.
There was some discussion about including bike patrols, foot patrols and mini- stations in a community policing effort. While residents spoke of the value of foot and bicycle patrols, the consensus was that the mini stations would be more feasible financially, and offer a base for interaction between residents and officers.
Another suggestion was for officers, after answering a call, to solicit feedback from residents by giving them a satisfaction survey about the officer’s performance on the scene. Additionally, it was recommended that police officers carry business cards including the dates and locations of the Police Community Relations Committee meetings at their police district.
It was suggested that Cleveland Community Police Commission meetings, which solicit citizen ideas concerning the consent decree, be streamed live on Facebook and left up for a week so residents can review the meetings and share ideas.
Other suggestions included building back up the Axillary Police force, and increasing ride-along opportunities and other interactions between residents and police.