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Cleveland's Community Police Commission takes steps to assert its authority

Members of the Cleveland Community Police Commission discuss the establishment of a process for overseeing Cleveland police policymaking during its Dec. 19, 2023 meeting.
Cleveland Community Police Commission
Members of the Cleveland Community Police Commission discuss the establishment of a process for overseeing Cleveland police policy making during its Dec. 19, 2023 meeting.

The Cleveland Community Police Commission voted Tuesday, during a special meeting, to restrict the issuance of police policies, known primarily as General Police Orders, by the Cleveland Division of Police.

Under Section 115-5 of the city charter, which was created with the passage of Issue 24 two years ago, the CPC has “final authority over police policies, procedures and training regimens.”

The motion passed with nine commissioners voting “yes,” one voting “present” and one voting “no.” Some commissioners objected to the motion coming up for a vote right after introduction, without an open discussion in committee first.

Its primary author, Commissioner Kyle Earley said he heard those concerns but wanted to move ahead anyway.

“And I think we have a lot of process talk and conversation but this was a sense of urgency because we could not go into another year without being a part of the GPO process,” Earley said.

The “Motion Regarding GPOs, Notices, Directives and Orders” removed much of the language of a previously circulated motion, titled “No New GPOs,” but has the same goals:

  • Establish a meeting schedule between police and commissioners and/or commission staff to “discuss the review and creation” of police policies and then require notification by the department when a policy is going to be changed or a new one issued.
  • Require the inclusion of commissioners and/or staff in “meetings or discussions related to the revision or creation” of policies.
  • Set a deadline of February 29, 2024, for the commission to create a process for final approval of police policies and, after that, no new GPOs should go into effect without approval from the CPC.
  • Create an alternative, emergency process for policy creation if the executive director, co-chairs and policy chair of the commission agree that an accelerated process is necessary.

Under the previous version, circulated by Earley before the commission’s Dec. 13, meeting, the police department would have been prohibited from establishing any new policies or orders like divisional notices, which are directives sent by department leadership but not included with the General Police Orders, starting immediately, until the CPC was included in the process.

Prior to that meeting, Earley said the motion was in response to the department’s continued issuance of policies after the commissioners were seated in the beginning of this year.

“We have to stay focused on what the charter says we are supposed to do,” Earley said in an interview prior to the December 13, meeting. “Will we be remembered as the commission that fought for the right thing or waited for legal language to allow us to do the thing we wanted to do?”

After Earley’s motion was circulated among commissioners, the mayor’s office received a copy and sent a message to members of the Cleveland Division of Police in response.

“I was recently made aware of concerns about an alarming directive the City received from the Community Police Commission (CPC) that would prevent the Division of Police from accomplishing its mission, putting the lives and safety of our residents and police officers at risk,” Bibb wrote.

While it was unclear how the city would respond if the motion passed, the message went on to say the motion “would bring the Division of Police’s information-sharing to a standstill.”

In a follow up, city spokesperson Tyler Sinclair said the mayor was still deciding what actions to take and described Commissioner Earley’s motion as rushed and said the commission should be working with the police department to carry out its duties.

“[Cleveland Division of Police] leadership has demonstrated they are ready and willing do that when the commission is ready,” said Sinclair.

Earley’s motion was not introduced as intended on December, 13, because the co-chairs blocked anyone from introducing new business at that meeting.

Commissioner Piet van Lier said during that meeting the commission had long requested opportunities to meet with the city to discuss the policy making process and the CPC’s role in it.

In 2022, Interim Executive Director Jason Goodrick sent proposed plans for starting the new commission’s work and received no response.

In August 2023, van Lier asked for engagement from the city on details of the RISE Initiative, Mayor Justin Bibb’s response to a summertime crime spike that includes policy elements.

Van Lier also requested a tour of the Real Time Crime Center from both Public Safety Director Karrie Howard and Commander Ali Pillow. The Real Time Crime Center monitors the city’s surveillance technologies and is a subject of review by the commission’s surveillance technology working group. Both of those requests remain unfilled.

In November, the commission contacted the city, police department and parties involved in the consent decree about policy review by the CPC and, according to van Lier, no actions were taken.

City spokesperson Marie Zickefoose said the city has been working with the commission, including engagement between the commission’s training committee and the department’s training staff.

“The chair of the newly formed CPC policy committee just reached out to Cmdr. [Brian] Carney (leads CDP policy) for the first time this week,” added Zickefoose. “Carney was immediately responsive and agreed to meet and discuss inclusion of the CPC policy committee. That meeting is scheduled for Monday 12/18.”

Following that meeting with Carney, Delante Spencer Thomas and Leigh Anderson from the mayor’s Police Accountability Team on December, 18, Earley and van Lier circulated the revised motion.

“It was a productive conversation,” said van Lier, who added that the motion was sent up the police department chain of command after the meeting to start setting up the process. “Passing this tonight will put that in play very directly. According to the charter we have the authority to do this.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.