University Circle Police Department patrol vehicle
Cleveland's agreement with University Circle Inc., which allows its private police department to patrol a portion of the city expires today. Credit: Paul Rochford / Signal Cleveland

Cleveland is reviewing the agreement it has with University Circle Inc. (UCI) that allows the non-profit’s private police department to patrol within the city’s borders. 

The agreement expires today, and the Department of Public Safety has not requested that the Cleveland City Council vote to renew it before the legislative body begins its end-of-year recess on Dec. 6.

City Council earlier this year approved a change to the agreement, called a memorandum of understanding or MOU, that expanded the jurisdiction of the University Circle Police Department (UCPD) into Little Italy. 

At the time, Council Member Kevin Conwell questioned UCPD’s track record with policing Black residents, though after holding a community meeting he supported the expansion, saying safety was a top priority. 

Council members also asked whether UCI had followed through on promises it made in 2018 to establish a citizen board to review residents’ complaints against its police officers or dispatchers. Similar efforts, often called civilian review boards, are meant to create a layer of accountability outside the law enforcement chain of command. 

Image of text from Cleveland's memorandum with University Circle Inc.
University Circle Inc. was required to establish a board on non-police employees to review citizen complaints within 90 days of the 2018 agreement. Credit: City of Cleveland

As of April, UCI had not trained the board to do that, Cleveland Documenters reported. Instead, public records showed that the department’s sergeants and captains were reviewing resident complaints made against their officers in 2020 and 2021.

UCPD officials told council members that the pandemic had delayed full implementation of the board and assured them the board would soon be trained and able to review cases.

Council passed legislation May 9 allowing the expansion but members made it clear the agreement would come before council again before it could be renewed. 

Lawsuit alleges UCPD used excessive force

Days before the expansion was approved, on May 7, Latoya Wilson visited Lake View Cemetery. The Cleveland resident left with a broken arm at the hands of UCPD officers, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed on her behalf on Nov. 17.

Officers responded to a call by a cemetery employee saying that Wilson, who is Black and has bipolar disorder, would not leave the property, according to the lawsuit. After trying to escort her out, the officers shoved Wilson face first into the ground, breaking her arm “loud enough to be heard on the officers’ body camera footage,” according to the lawsuit.

In an emailed statement, Becky Voldrich, senior director of communications and events for UCI, told Signal Cleveland that Wilson made a complaint by telephone on June 20. UCI then prepared a written complaint and submitted it to an independent investigator who works with the complaint review board. The investigation and review process is ongoing. 

The non-profit “is following the established process for the University Circle Police Department’s Civilian Review Board to investigate and review complaints we receive about police officer conduct,” the statement said. 

Wilson injured one UCPD officer during the incident resulting in a felony charge, according to Voldrich. County court records show Wilson was charged with resisting arrest; she has pleaded not guilty.

UCI is seeking to renew the MOU with the city, according to Voldrich.

Cleveland still reviewing agreement

In general, MOUs are meant to set expectations and align protocol among the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) and the other departments that are granted powers to respond to calls in the city. The city has agreements with nearly a dozen other departments. 

The last time Cleveland and UCI updated the UCI agreement in 2018, language was added to “further the goals of constitutional and effective policing” including training mandated under Cleveland’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. The amendment required UCPD to adopt many Cleveland’s policies related to police use of force, crisis intervention and bias-free policing.

Image of Cleveland Safety Committee meeting from April 2022.
University Circle Police Chief James Repicky discusses his department’s request to expand its jurisdiction at a Cleveland City Council Safety Committee meeting in April. Credit: Cleveland City Council YouTube

Cleveland Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia, public information officer for the department, told Signal Cleveland in an email:  “The city’s MOU with University Circle is currently under review. Due to pending litigation, there will be no additional comment.”

During discussions related to expanding UCI’s policing jurisdiction, members of council’s Safety Committee questioned what options the city has if a party violates an MOU. Karrie Howard, director of Public Safety, said the city could opt to end the agreement.

Ward 8 Council Member Mike Polensek, who chairs council’s Safety Committee, confirmed that council must approve a new MOU. He told Signal Cleveland it would be the administration’s decision to introduce the legislation to council.

Polensek previously told Cleveland Documenters that the administration must hold partner police departments accountable. “It’s going to be up to the administration to hold their feet to the fire, to make sure they implement what they committed to,” he said.

Assignment Editor (he/him)
Doug, a Cleveland Documenter since 2020, has been a copy editor and reporter. His work includes: The Pace of Passage about how quickly Cleveland City Council passes legislation; a look at the challenges of the city’s Exterior Home Paint program; and University Circle Police Department’s complaint-review process. Doug has also written explainers and guides and launched #CLEDocsAnswers, which answers questions Documenters have about local government.