In December the City of Cleveland announced several changes of command in its police department. Signal Cleveland is working to sit down with all the commanders to better understand their plans for their districts.
Robert Tucker was promoted to Third District commander of the Cleveland Division of Police on Dec. 6. The district covers northern neighborhoods between downtown and East Cleveland, including the Central neighborhood and parts of Slavic Village.
Tucker started his law enforcement career as a patrol officer in the Third District in 1998.
After almost 10 years as a patrol officer, he worked his way up the ranks, supervising officers in the Fifth District, working in internal affairs and later overseeing the Second District’s detective unit, violent-crime response team, and community services unit.
Tucker said he’s learned a lot along the way and is using that knowledge to guide and advise his officers. And he hopes to do so with humility.
“At the end of the day, it’s really not about me,” he said. “It’s about my team that I work with and it’s about the community.”
Signal Cleveland sat with Tucker to learn about his priorities.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are some of the issues you want to address and prioritize as the new Third District commander?
My main priorities are pretty simple. I want to impact violent crime, and I want to enhance community relations. And I want to do that constitutionally. I want to practice constitutional policing, going by the book. What we’re tasked with is upholding the Constitution. And if we’re respecting people’s rights, you know, use of force, search and seizure, those types of things, if we’re doing it right, then we’re improving community relations.
Cleveland’s no different than any other city in that we have policies about procedural justice, and if you’re not familiar with it, the premise of it is treating people with respect, dignity, giving them a voice, letting them be heard. So procedural justice is paramount. It’s just part of that constitutional policing philosophy.
There’s research out there that says that the financial impact of homicides is millions of dollars for every homicide. So it’s very important that we are constantly trying to mitigate violent crime, and the community relations aspect of that plays right into impacting violent crime. Obviously, if you don’t have the cooperation in the community, you have less likelihood of impacting violent crime.
How can you and your team improve community relations and build trust?
To me, improving community relations is very simple, right? It’s having conversations with individuals that you might not have had a conversation with and just opening yourself up and speaking to people and treating people with respect. And it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time, but it’s really all of our responsibility. And it’s the community’s responsibility as well.
Over my career I’ve seen the police in the community in the same area or same space, and I kind of look around and no one’s talking to each other, you know, for whatever reason. So to break down those barriers, I think, just opening communication is huge.
And yes, community meetings are important and community functions are important, but just the overall day-to-day occurrences where we have an opportunity just to speak to one another, I think that goes a long way.
Officers are sometimes going into situations that can be traumatic, that can affect mental health. How realistic is it to expect your officers to always be of sound mind when they’re making decisions out on the field?
I went to the FBI National Academy in 2019, and I learned almost immediately that around the country the focus is officer wellness. And you’re right. I cannot expect my officers to go out there and practice constitutional policing or procedural justice if they’re having issues. It is the responsibility of me, the leadership in this building, but also the officers and the detectives themselves.
And I say that because if you and I are partners, and we come to work every day, and we’re out there grinding and we’re answering calls for service and we’re working extra shifts, I know what your baseline is. I know you better than almost anybody because we work together every day.
That was one of the first things that I addressed when I came here as the Third District commander – it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that we are OK. And if we’re not, if someone on our shift, on our platoon, in our district is struggling, we need to address it.
When I was a younger officer, I can count on one hand how many overdose deaths I responded to. These officers today out here in some parts of the city are responding to more overdose deaths in three days, or two days, than I responded to in my entire career on patrol. So that trauma affects people.
You talk a lot about constitutional policing, and it seems as though you don’t reject accountability.
I believe officers want accountability, but they want to be treated fairly. This is hugely important because I believe there’s a misconception that police officers reject accountability. I don’t believe that that’s true. Most police officers, an overwhelming majority of police officers, are coming here every day and doing what they’re supposed to do.
And those police officers welcome accountability, because if there’s someone that’s not, they need to be dealt with.
I think that police officers want leadership. I believe that they want effective supervision and they welcome accountability. But it has to be done fairly, and it has to be done consistently.
Is there anything you wish community members better understood about policing?
I wish the community understood the human side of policing, and I know that’s probably pretty cliche-ish, if you will, but I believe that that’s true and I do understand why they don’t. Because they see a police car, they see a badge, they see a uniform, and a lot of times the community doesn’t see through that to a human being, for obvious reasons.
Human beings are not robots. And I think sometimes police officers in general are kind of categorized as, you know, “Well, the police officer should have done this,” or “the police officer should not have done this” or “this should have happened.” And there’s a lot of second guessing there.
But what people don’t understand is that police officers, human beings, have different experiences, life experiences, they come from different backgrounds, they have different skill sets. So their capabilities are different. Their strengths and their weaknesses differ sometimes.
One thing that I want to do in future community meetings is, you know, pick an officer and have them speak at a community meeting for a few minutes and just expose the community to some of the human side of police officers.