As the 13 members of the new Community Police Commission sat and listened to advice from past members, Lewis Katz warned them of the challenges they would face.
“The city is no friend of yours,” Katz, who was on the previous commission, told the group repeatedly.
“This is our last chance,” he said. “There’s a book of 100 years of trying to change the police in Cleveland and the efforts and the blood and the tears and it’s really up to you.”
He was referring to the Community Police Commission’s “100 Years Project,” a collection of reports documenting the history of Cleveland police practices and reform recommendations.
That report was one of several documents provided to the new commissioners at their first meeting.
The focus on Wednesday was for commissioners to learn about the history of community police commissions in Cleveland and to hear the perspective and intentions of Citizens for a Safer Cleveland, the group that campaigned for the ballot measure known as Issue 24.
Voters approved Issue 24 in 2021, creating the new Community Police Commission, which will now have the final say on police discipline cases and officer policies. It marks a significant change in how police in Cleveland are disciplined, giving it more power than previous community police commissions.
Commissioners also heard from members of Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration and the interim monitor of the consent decree.
Past commissioners shared some of the challenges they faced trying to get information from the city and from the police department.
LaTonya Goldsby, president of the Black Lives Matter Cleveland chapter, one of the framers of Issue 24 and Tamir Rice’s cousin, encouraged commissioners to lean on the community when they start to see pushback.
“Stay firm,” Goldsby said. “You have the community behind you, utilize the community. We’re here for you.”
Here’s what commissioners said they are looking forward to
Teri Wang said she’s looking forward to listening to the community and encouraged Clevelanders to participate in the commission’s work.
“I’m really looking forward to listening to the various people that we need to be involved in this change from the various communities and from police,” she said. “But especially the community.”
Commissioner Piet van Lier said his biggest takeaways were the advice past members provided and the perspective of Citizens for a Safer Cleveland.
He’s ready to get to work, van Lier said. For now, that means arranging meetings among the committees they created and reading about what past commissions have already done.
Here’s what the commissioners did at their first meeting
The commission created four committees on Wednesday: budget and grants, commissioner training, rules and a hiring committee.
They agreed to meet on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The meetings will be open to the public and the first 30 minutes of each will be set aside for public comment.
The commission is working on setting locations for their upcoming meetings, Goodrick said in an email.
The commissioners also selected Administrative Manager Jason Goodrick to serve as interim executive director. The decision only changes Goodrick’s job title, without affecting the commission’s budget as Goodrick agreed to continue doing the work at his current salary until the commission hires a permanent executive director.
Goodrick was executive director for the previous commission until it was dissolved in 2021 with the Issue 24 vote.
Goodrick advised commissioners to use him and the three other staff members to get some of the work done. In the last year, the staff put together information to prepare the new commission.
Commissioners were provided with a packed binder that included recommendations for committees, budget information, past reports on use of force, general police orders, and the consent decree, among other material.
Mark Griffin, the city’s law director, told Signal Cleveland the new board guarantees community input and ensures that police continue to be responsive to the community.
He believes the new commission will be a national model because it has real power to change discipline and policy.
“If you look across the country you find many civilian oversight entities which have the power of voice but not the power of changing discipline,” Griffin said. “So there really is no model that’s exactly like this.”
But that power is likely to come with resistance.
Griffin said there’s disagreement about whether the city charter will take precedence over collective bargaining agreements.
“That will be something that ultimately I think the courts will have to resolve and it will come in the context of a specific case,” he said. “So until a specific case arises, we can’t predict exactly what will happen.”