In December the city announced several changes of command in its police department. Signal Cleveland is working to sit down with all of the commanders to better understand their plans for their districts.
Fourth District Commander Maurice “Mo” Brown started leading the police district on the city’s southeast side in December.
The Fourth District includes the Union-Miles, Mt. Pleasant and Broadway-Slavic Village neighborhoods and reaches the southeast edges of Cleveland that border the Heights suburbs.
Cleveland Police Department - Fourth District
9339 Kinsman Ave.
Commander's Office 216-623-5404
Brown grew up watching his godfather go to work as a Cleveland police officer in the Fifth District. He would spend a lot of time with his godfather – his brother’s best friend – and often asked about his day at work, he said.
“I can remember as young as probably five or six just always being fascinated with watching him get up, get dressed and go to work and wanting to hear about his day,” he said.
The stories his godfather would tell kept him interested in the profession.
Brown joined the Marine Corps immediately after graduating from high school and spent six years in the military. When he came home, he was still interested in policing, he said.
He applied to a few departments; the Cleveland Division of Police accepted him quickly.
Hired in early 1993, he started in the then-Sixth District, which has since folded into the Fifth District.
Brown spent 14 years as a patrol officer in that district before becoming a detective, a post he held for six years. He was promoted to sergeant and supervised Fifth District patrol officers for more than three years.
His next promotion led him to the Fourth District, where he became a lieutenant.
Most recently, he was in charge of the homicide unit as a lieutenant in the Bureau of Special Services before he was promoted to commander of the Fourth District.
“I’ve given the best that I can to the citizens,” Brown said. “I know that we don’t always get it right. But I do believe in leadership by example, and that’s what I want to impart upon the officers at least in this building. That we need to treat people with respect.”
Signal Cleveland sat with Brown to learn about his priorities.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are your priorities as leader of the Fourth District?
My priorities, obviously, are safety. I want to make this district the most safe district in the city. I want to accomplish that by getting to know my officers, not only on a professional level but on a personal level. I want them to get to know me as well. I believe in transparency, and I think sometimes if people get to know their leader and understand how their leader thinks and works, they’re more apt to do things for that person.
I also want to get to know people in the community, and not just in crisis or when things are going wrong. I want to just sit down and have conversations, even not in uniform, I’m just wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Just to have thoughtful, real, respectful conversations, to know what they think about us as police, what we can do to improve ourselves, what we can do to better serve them in the community. And also let them know what they can do to assist us.
The Fourth District has notoriously been plagued as being the most violent district in the city. I do want to change that narrative. I want to get out and talk to the people and find out how they think we can change it. But it has to be a collaborative effort. It can’t just all be the police because we can’t be everywhere every time.
How can you and your team build community trust?
I heard someone say at the recent meeting at The Word Church that at best we respond to trouble. And that’s true. We don’t have the personnel right now to do a lot of proactive policing, but we do attempt to have our officers get out, park their cars, and walk.
Mostly they do that in business districts, like the Lee-Harvard Plaza or Shaker Square, but someone pointed out to me recently, ‘We would like to see them walk up and down our side streets.’
That was a very good and valid point, I think. So that’s going to be one of my directives.
This is where the people live. This is where they need to see us.
You have to just be able to have honest communication, open communication and a willingness to try to understand someone else’s point of view.
When we’re finally able to sit down and say, let me put myself in your shoes and try to see it from your position, whether you ultimately agree with it or not, I think that fosters conversation and ultimately will foster change.
At your community meeting, a lot of residents brought up problems surrounding vacant properties in the Fourth District (people living in abandoned homes, drug use). Is that a big issue in your district?
I can’t take credit for it, [former Fourth District] Commander [Brandon] Kutz set this up in a way that they’re bringing in different people [to the meetings] to address the different issues, like Building and Housing. And that gives them a voice to someone other than the police.
The police can only do so much about building and housing. Let’s hear from the actual Building and Housing Department.
I get [vacant housing] complaints from every ward, every part of the district. I’m dealing with a couple areas down in Slavic Village right now that’s the same thing, ‘This property is a nuisance.’ ‘This property has squatters.’ ‘There’s a lot of prostitution or drug activity.’ or just, ‘people [are] dumping trash because the property is vacant,’ which we all know draws rodents, etcetera.
So as much information as we can get from the community to the proper entities within the city and then they can respond in turn to these issues and let them know what their process is to getting a property cleaned up or getting a property labeled as abandoned or a nuisance or unlivable.
What are your thoughts on co-response and care-response models, alternative options to taking someone to jail? Do you do anything to get your officers on board with using the Diversion Center?
I wholeheartedly support those Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT). We’re tasked with so many different jobs, and mental health professionals we are not. We can be made aware, but without the proper years of studying and training, that is just a field to itself. So to have someone to be able to come out with an officer and have the training and the certifications and the expertise in how to speak, how to deal with someone that’s in a mental health crisis, is huge. And I think it does help, because everybody that’s in a mental crisis doesn’t need to go to jail.
We had 40-hour training years ago that I went through, the CIT training. So it’s been revamped, and I don’t remember what year I went through it. But in order for us to get Tasers when they first came out, we had to go through the 40-hour training.
It was eye opening. And then again that was something we were just starting to open our eyes more to mental health issues and people in crisis. To actually go to someone’s home with a counselor just checking up on someone just to see how they’re doing. To watch them [counselors] go to work and watch them in their work space was very interesting.
With your godfather being a police officer, was there ever a point where you realized your childhood image of what a police officer was is not what the reality of policing turned out to be?
Oh sure. I’ve been in two use-of-deadly-force situations. You come into this profession fully knowing that that’s possible. That you may have to take a life. Or that your life may be taken. You fully are aware of that, but until you are in that situation, you don’t really understand what you’d do or how you’d react.
And then I look back and I think that 80% of this job to me is mundane, it’s paperwork, it’s talking to people, trying to solve people’s issues. I would say 20% of it is actually maybe a little dangerous. And of that 20%, I’d say maybe 4-5% is life threatening one way or the other.
So that’s not the everyday norm. You’re not shooting at somebody every day or wrestling for your life every day. Now there are times when you do have to wrestle with people, but I think that’s more, people don’t want to go to jail. They don’t want to be apprehended. They’re not fighting you to hurt you, they’re trying to get away from you. And you’re in a position now that you have to detain and handcuff this person. But that’s not an everyday thing.
We get calls where they [say] ‘Oh my God, somebody broke into my house.’ When we get there, there’s a bat that got in through the chimney and now we’re chasing around a bat, trying to get the bat out of this lady’s house. That’s kind of one of the funny things that you don’t hear much about that we do things like that. Now that we’re here, we gotta do something to try to help this person.