By: Maggie Phillips and Jenna Thomas
On Tuesday, Citizens for a Safer Cleveland held a virtual press conference launching their campaign to improve police oversight and accountability in the city of Cleveland. This ballot initiative would establish an independent civilian police review board. This initiative would also establish resources and funding to provide members of the public power to hold officers accountable for police misconduct.
Speakers at the press conference included representatives from a variety of organizations, including Cleveland NAACP, Black Lives Matter Cleveland and ACLU of Ohio. Other speakers included the mother of a victim of police brutality, a former Cleveland police officer and a civil rights attorney.
Host of the press conference and organizer for Stand Up Ohio, Rachael Collyer, kicked off the meeting by recognizing the long history of police misconduct in Cleveland. Latonya Goldsby, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland, reinforced this sentiment by sharing the amount of Clevelanders harmed by the Cleveland Police Department (CPD).
“Here in Cleveland there has been over 91 families who have been impacted by state-sanctioned police violence, and not one of those officers have been charged. That means over 91 times a police officer has been allowed to get away with police misconduct, and often times murder, with no accountability whatsoever,” Goldsby said.
The Citizens for a Safer Cleveland ballot initiative promises to provide the accountability for police misconduct that many feel has been lacking within the CPD.
Civil rights attorney Subodh Chandra broke down the provisions within the charter amendment during Tuesday’s press conference. He claimed that while a current civilian police review board has existed in Cleveland since the 1980’s, it lacks the power to hold police accountable.
“When the civilian police review board makes recommendations to the chief of police for officers they think should be disciplined, unfortunately the chief is free- or the safety director above the chief is free- to disregard those recommendations,” stated Chandra.
Ballot initiatives like these go around legislators and bring issues directly to voters. If the campaign is able to get enough signatures, the legislation will be directly on the ballot for Cleveland voters to either pass or deny. CSU students who are residents of Cleveland and registered to vote in the city will be able to weigh in through their vote. The measure will appear on the ballot this November.
The Ohio Student Association (OSA), a student organization at Cleveland State, is supporting the ballot initiative through on-campus canvassing. If you are interested in signing the petition to get the issue on the ballot or with canvassing, you can contact OSA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the ballot measure passes, two different civilian committees would have increased authority at different stages in the process of police accountability. First, the Civilian Police Review Board would receive direct reports on civilian complaints related to police misconduct, making recommendations for disciplinary action to the chief of police. The Community Police Commission would then review the recommendations of the board and chief of police, determining whether they are adequate disciplinary measures for the misconduct.
Under the proposed changes, the CPD would now have to fully cooperate with the board’s investigations and recommendations. It could argue against the board’s recommendations, but must provide clear, written evidence that discredits the board’s findings. If the Community Police Commission disagrees with CPD’s evidence, it has the ultimate authority in enacting disciplinary measures.
“They can no longer just blow off the recommendations of the board which is what we have seen in the past,” said Chandra. “If they don’t follow this charter amendment, then the board or any city taxpayer has the ability to bring legal action to enforce this provision’s terms.”
Citizens for a Safer Cleveland is collecting signatures from Cleveland residents so the proposed amendment can appear on the ballot in the November election. More information can be found here.