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Cleveland Green official calls for resignations after pattern of excessive police force

p brian cumminsThe following editorial by Cleveland City Council member and Green Party member Brian Cummins was published on Cleveland.com:

The U. S. Department of Justice has released its investigation report that concludes, “the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

The report describes a pattern of excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons; excessive force against persons who are mentally ill; and employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable and places officers and civilians at unnecessary risk.

The scathing report follows the recent tragic deaths of Tanesha Anderson and Tamir Rice and comes two years after the car chase and shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

Mayor Frank Jackson is credited for requesting an investigation in late December 2012. However, his request came on the heels of pressure from community organizations that sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking for an investigation weeks earlier.

Now, two years later, after 58 pages of details and growing protests, the mayor’s response has been insufficient. The gravity of the report, the police department’s history with problems of excessive force and the city’s inability to improve oversight and management require stronger actions.

The mayor should heed the calls from the public to have Safety Director Michael McGrath, Chief of Police Calvin Williams and Martin Flask, assistant to the mayor for special projects, step down from their posts.

Director McGrath and Assistant Flask (former Safety Director) retired in 2010 and 2001, respectively, then were re-hired by the city in a practice known as “double-dipping.” McGrath first joined the force in 1981 and Flask in 1973.

Calvin Williams has served as chief of police since February of this year. He previously held the second most powerful position in the department, as deputy chief of field operations beginning in 2011, and he entered the command staff as Third District Commander in 2006. Williams joined the force in 1986.

All three received promotions in February with no competitive process, in the middle of the Justice investigation. The timing of their promotions and their continued leadership of the Public Safety and Division of Police is troubling and an example of an entrenched administration that is reluctant to change.

Their presence reflects a broken and dysfunctional system of government, a system lacking accountability. It is a system that allows “double-dipping” by retired chiefs, directors and others to stay on, often stifling creativity, new ideas and opportunities for innovation and substantive change.

The same system has also allowed officers to move up through the ranks without having to take promotional tests, skipping over several ranks on the ascent to command positions. Combined, these practices undermine respect for the command staff and send the wrong message to the rank and file – that political loyalty can trump new ideas and innovation that are unlikely to be welcomed by supervisors or the brass.

Without change at the top, Mayor Jackson is stuck in a position of denial of the severity of the Justice findings. By not holding the command staff accountable, the mayor risks losing credibility and jeopardizes the process of community reconciliation and rebuilding of trust and cooperation required for community-centered policing.

The problems described in the Justice report signify troubles with the deep-rooted culture of the Division of Police and is reflective of other divisions of city government. It is a culture that places value on trust and loyalty above competency and accountability, with a pattern of behavior that maintains and manages status quo systems while reacting to problems, as opposed to developing and rewarding talent and being proactive in adopting new technologies and modern best practices.

In addition to troubles within the Division of Police, there are significant problems within the leadership and management of the Division of Fire. There are strained relations with unions and the 2010 announced integration of Fire and the Division of Emergency Medical Service is stalled, compounding Public Safety challenges.

Throughout the past year, there has been a strong feeling of a city on the rise, with major development projects happening downtown. Several neighborhoods are seeing great gains; we achieved a renewed commitment to our young students and public school system; and, as a result, witnessed an increase in civic pride. Consider the important preparations and management of the Republican National Convention in 2016 and all that it will bring.

There is great risk now of losing momentum and credibility, along with jeopardizing the hope of rebuilding trust and collaboration between our residents and safety forces.

Without strong confidence in city government, we will not move forward at a pace that is competitive with other regions and world-class cities. As someone once said, a leader must lead, follow or get out of the way.

Brian Cummins represents Ward 14 on Cleveland City Council.

Dave Schwab

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