Janice Ridgeway (right) speaks during a Community Police Commission meeting at the Frederick Douglass Recreation Center on Feb. 8, 2023.
Janice Ridgeway (right) speaks during a Community Police Commission meeting at the Frederick Douglass Recreation Center on Feb. 8, 2023. Ridgeway recently updated the federal judge overseeing the Cleveland Police consent decree on the commission's progress and addressed issues regarding public arguing. Credit: Erin Woisnet for Signal Cleveland

At the Community Police Commission’s first meeting with the federal judge overseeing the consent decree, commission members addressed concerns over their public arguing, an issue dogging the commission almost from its start. 

The consent decree is an agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Cleveland Division of Police that requires police to implement a series of reforms. The Independent Cleveland Police Monitoring Team evaluates the department’s compliance with the consent decree and issues semi-annual reports. The most recent report said the Community Police Commission (CPC), formed earlier this year, has taken “important foundational steps” such as hosting public meetings and working with the Cleveland Division of Police’s Training Review Committee. 

But the report also highlighted problems regarding commissioners arguing in public meetings. (Here are examples from June and July.)

“Working together as a cohesive, collaborative body must be the priority for the CPC in the next reporting period and will go a long way in building trust with the community and the institutions it will interface with,” the report said.

The report also said commissioners need to better understand the laws that govern their work in order to be more productive in police oversight and “prevent any further setback as a result of disagreements regarding process.”

CPC members addressed this at an Oct. 25 hearing with U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver, according to Jason Goodrick, interim executive director of the commission. 

Janice McCullough Ridgeway, co-chair of the CPC, agreed that the public disagreements have prevented the commission from being as productive as it should be. 

Ridgeway pointed to Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development – forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning – created by psychologist Bruce Tuckman. Ridgeway told Signal Cleveland the commission is in the storming phase, which describes a period where group members argue, roles are unclear and progress stalls. 

“Many of us have grown battle-weary,” Ridgeway said. “We’re discouraged by our own behavior.”

Public disagreements overshadow progress

Ridgeway and Commissioner John Adams told Signal Cleveland the arguing at public meetings, which residents recently brought up as a problem during public comment, has overshadowed some of the commission’s accomplishments. 

Since the group was formed in January, members have undergone training and created an 18-month plan outlining projects and goals for each working group. They also created a program to award community grants to local nonprofits.

City law requires that the commission receive 0.5% of the police budget – or $1,089,707 in 2023 – to fund grants. The commission awarded 26 organizations – each receiving between $15,000 and $50,000 for projects that support “community-based violence prevention, restorative justice, and mediation programs that reduce the need for police activity,” as outlined by city law.

CPC wants to review police union contract language 

The commission’s latest project is to review changes to the police union contract. They’re concerned some of the changes in the recently negotiated agreement will interfere with their ability to discipline officers. In 2021, voters approved a charter amendment known as Issue 24, which created the  Community Police Commission. It has final say on police discipline cases and officer policies.

City leaders and police union representatives negotiated a new contract with a provision that says officers who commit low-level civil offenses and who were not the primary officer listed in a complaint will receive only a warning.  

In the Oct. 25 hearing, Justice Department officials told city leaders they should have informed the consent decree monitoring team before agreeing to changes in the contract regarding discipline. 

Community police commissioners last week voted to request the police union contract changes to analyze the language for themselves. 

While the commission doesn’t have a say in union contract agreements, commissioners are considering making recommendations to city leadership if they believe the contract interferes with their ability to do their work. 

Commissioner Piet van Lier said it should not be so easy to change the way police are disciplined.  

“We don’t want to allow a precedent to be set that the two parties can just so easily violate the consent decree but also the will of the voters who approved Issue 24,” van Lier said. 

The commission is working on submitting a formal request to the city, Goodrick said. 

City says it is meeting with DOJ about new contract

The pay raises and shift changes in the new contract will remain unchanged, Tyler Sinclair, a city spokesperson, said in an email statement. 

The statement also said: “As previously mentioned, the City welcomes the opportunity to meet with the DOJ and looks forward to discussing and working together collaboratively toward a resolution that affirms the City’s commitment to constitutional policing and making the Cleveland Division of Police a preferred employer. Though the City has begun engaging with the DOJ this week, we have no further updates at this time.”

Cleveland City Council must vote on the union contract before it goes into effect. Council has yet to receive the contract from city administration, Darryle Torbert, spokesperson for City Council, told Signal Cleveland. 

Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.