Op-ed: Issue 24 is a step towards meaningful and necessary police reform


Sabrina Harris.

It has been over six years since Cleveland entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), mandating that Cleveland make specific, compressive reforms to its police department. 

The consent decree was initially projected to last five years. Cleveland is now aiming for consent decree reforms to be completed in 2022. Yet, here we are, with two months left in 2021, and there is still much work to be done. 

The Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) remains out of compliance with nearly two-thirds of the monitored elements of the decree. Policies and procedures, while critical, are nothing more than empty words on paper if they are not implemented and there is no accountability. More importantly, the city and the CDP don’t seem to recognize that the crux of the consent decree hinges on its relationship with the community.  

In Cleveland, there continues to be a lack of accountability, transparency, and trust when it comes to the police, and that’s with a consent decree in place. What will policing in the city of Cleveland look like when federal oversight goes away? 

That’s where we the people come in. On November 2nd (or before, with early voting!) Clevelanders have an opportunity to vote for change. Issue 24 – brought forward by the Citizens for a Safer Cleveland – is a charter amendment that would significantly strengthen civilian oversight of the police. 

How? For starters, the amendment expands the investigative and disciplinary powers of the Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB), a body of civilians appointed by the Mayor and Cleveland City Council that investigates alleged misconduct by CDP employees and recommends discipline. 

Under Issue 24, the CPRB will be responsible for overseeing full and complete investigations of misconduct. The Chief of Police and executive head of police must defer to the CPRB’s fact findings and recommendations regarding disciplinary matters (with specific processes in place when there are differing opinions). 

The amendment also moves the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) – a civilian-staffed agency charged with receiving and investigating civilian complaints about CDP personnel – from the city’s Department of Public Safety to be within and reportable to the CPRB in order to ensure investigations are truly independent. 

Issue 24 also establishes a permanent, independent 13-member Community Police Commission. The current Cleveland Community Police Commission (CPC) was created under the consent decree. The group is tasked with soliciting community feedback on police policies and practices and then issuing recommendations; however, the CPC does not have the ability to enforce them. 

Issue 24 would change that by equipping the Commission with the independence, authority, and resources to provide true civilian oversight. The amendment gives the Commission the last say on police policies, procedures, and training programs. The Commission has the authority to make the final decision regarding discipline of police officers for misconduct. Despite arguments to the contrary, the Commission’s authority would only extend to the discipline of police officers, not elected officials. 

The mayor is heavily involved with the CDP and the role of policing throughout the city. Under Issue 24, the Mayor will appoint all 13 members to the Commission, with approval from Cleveland City Council by a majority vote, for four-year terms following an application process. 

Members – three of which can be representatives of police associations – are required to reflect the racial, social, economic, and cultural demographics of Cleveland to protect the community’s voice in policing and community safety policies. The Mayor also can remove members of the Commission for misconduct or an inability to fulfil their duties. 

We can’t let the police continue to police themselves. It doesn’t work. Those directly impacted by police violence know this to be true. Citizens for a Safer Cleveland is led by families who have lost a loved one to police violence. They have spent years fighting for real justice and calling for police to be held accountable for their actions. 

By strengthening civilian oversight, Issue 24 will increase accountability, transparency, and public safety. It ensures a community seat at the table. That is why the ACLU of Ohio is among a diverse group of organizations that has enthusiastically endorsed Issue 24

Our current system of policing is failing us. We know we are a long way from the finish line of true equality and systemic change. Rebuilding community trust and policing with respect to individual rights are critical to ensuring that communities feel safe and secure. Voting “yes” on Issue 24 is a step towards meaningful and necessary police reform in Cleveland.

For information about the Sept. 14 primary and Nov. 2 general election, including registering to vote, visit boe.cuyahogacounty.gov.

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Sabrina Harris is a Policy Strategist for the ACLU of Ohio.

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