Activists in Cleveland, Ohio are pushing a police reform effort that includes a ballot initiative to create a civilian oversight panel authorized to fire officers in a troubled department that’s twice been under federal oversight.
“The people of Cleveland have to take charge of this reform,” Brenda Bickerstaff, whose brother was fatally shot by police in 2002, told The Washington Post.
“If we want this reform to work, if we want to have the relationship that the police and the community is supposed to have with one another, we have to take charge of it.”
City officials are in their second stint under federal oversight next year, and Bickerstaff and other activists want to build more oversight into the system — by giving residents power through two civilian-led oversight panels to overrule the police chief and fire bad officers.
The Citizens for a Safer Cleveland ballot initiative, spearheaded by Bickerstaff and other Cleveland residents who’ve lost loved ones in police-involved shootings, would give the Community Police Commission the final say, although the police union could still appeal disciplinary decisions to arbitrators., the Post reported.
If passed, it would make the city’s civilian review boards among the most powerful in the country, the Post reported.
But Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, a Democrat, contends it would make the city less safe — taking power out of the hands of the mayor and police chief and putting it in the hands of a committee of 13, the Post reported.
Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association union, said the ballot backers are ignoring reforms that have taken place since the Justice Department resumed police department oversight in 2013.
“Since the consent decree has been around we’ve been more than accountable,” Follmer told the Post.
“We discipline more cops than anywhere in the state, we hand out the most suspensions in the state, we have cameras on, we’re watched all the time. And I’ve had our attorneys look at this thing and we think there’s legal problems with it, because our contract pretty much says we get disciplined by the chief and the safety director.”
Subodh Chandra, the lawyer for the Citizens for a Safer Cleveland ballot initiative, told the Post critics are wrong.
“You can have this police accountability while at the same time trying to have a more effective police force to stop violence in our community,” Chandra told the Post. “And we don’t, as citizens, have to accept that somehow there will be an increase of unchecked violence if we hold police accountable. That is simply a false proposition.”
Chandra, who as the city’s law director had a role in deciding which officers were disciplined and how, said bringing the process out into the open would force a political machine that’s protected rogue officers to respond to the will of the voters.
“What I believe is, if this passes, we will start to see the chief making discipline decisions for misconduct toward civilians in a way that aligns with civilian values and civilian culture,” he told the Post. “And that’s what we need. We need police accountability using civilian values, not paramilitary values. It’s the same reason we have a civilian commander in chief.”
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