The newly appointed Community Police Commission is set to meet for the first time soon as they start the process of reviewing police discipline cases and police department policies.
The creation of the Community Police Commission, which will now have the final say on police discipline cases, marks a significant change in how police in Cleveland are disciplined. But first, commissioners will go through some training, conversations and listening sessions as they prepare to review discipline cases and policies and procedures of the Cleveland Division of Police.
In their initial meeting, commissioners expect to select a chairperson and outline the process to hire an executive director, said Alana Garrett-Ferguson, one of the commissioners.
They also expect to set training dates to learn how to access records through the city’s public records center. Commissioners have talked about meeting with officers to learn about police department policy and procedures, Garrett-Ferguson said.
While the commission makes decisions independently, the city is providing the training and other guidance to help get the commission started, said Delante Thomas, chief ethics officer for the City of Cleveland.
As part of onboarding, the city is recommending that commissioners seek insight from the framers of Issue 24, the voter-approved city charter amendment that led to the newly-appointed commission.
Kareem Henton, organizer and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland, and one of the framers of Issue 24, said he plans to remind the incoming commissioners about the intentions behind the amendment – accountability.
“Accountability is something that the community has seen very little of when we have, you know, a mayor who empowers a police chief and a public safety director that have the power to overturn verdicts, judgments, punishments that are instilled from the Civilian Police Review Board,” Henton said.
The nine member Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) is is separate from the 13-member Community Police Commission.
The CPRB reviews citizen complaints about police officers, then makes disciplinary recommendations.
Issue 24 grants the Community Police Commission, who will work alongside the CPRB, the final say over discipline.
Henton believes the city is using a loophole in the amendment language to avoid appointing people to the new commission who he believed would fulfill key roles, like an attorney with experience with police misconduct and a family member who has lost a loved one to police violence. The city has said it has interpreted the new law in good faith.
Henton said that Thomas wants the group that framed Issue 24 to be more involved when it comes time to replace the term-limited commissioners.
“We’re just hopeful that they’re going to honor and do exactly what it is that they’re saying, by being more transparent, and actually allowing us to play more of a part within that process,” Henton said.
Henton added that he has a lot of faith in some of the commissioners who were appointed and believes they are committed to creating positive change.
Garrett-Ferguson hopes the commission will help reimagine what community safety means by examining the police budget and recommending ways to reallocate funding to community-based and evidence-based programs that reduce crime and decrease recidivism.
“I think for the City of Cleveland, safety has always been synonymous with more police presence,” she said. “And I really want us to do a deeper examination of that and see if that is actually what we need when we are talking about community safety.”
Garrett-Ferguson also wants to prioritize officers’ mental and emotional wellbeing.
She expects the group to look into what support systems exist for officers and whether they’re getting the proper resources after they experience an incident that results in someone’s death or other major tragedies, she said.
Garrett-Ferguson also hopes the commission will examine procedures and organizational culture to see if officers are getting appropriate training on things like racial bias, working with youth and women and building relationships with community members.
Garrett-Ferguson is looking forward to hearing from and working with the community.
“We are here to serve our community and make sure that we are hearing their voices,” she said. “We’re listening to them, we’re addressing their concerns and we’re making this a safer city for our residents.”
Commissioners will be paid $8,963 annually and the chair will get an additional $575.
Commission meetings will be open to the public and commissioners are discussing making the meetings available virtually.