CLEVELAND, Ohio — Tempers flared when leaders of Cleveland’s police unions and associations met with the public Wednesday night to discuss ways to improve relations with the community.
Many of the approximately 100 people in attendance voiced their frustration with police during what was billed as a “community conversation” at the New Sardis Primitive Baptist Church on East 147th Street.
The event, organized by City Councilman Zack Reed, marked the first time leaders from the police unions and organizations had met with the public since the U.S. Justice Department released its findings in December on the use of excessive force by Cleveland police officers.
Tension high as Cleveland police union, organization leaders meet with public
Stephen Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, is interrupted while answering a question during a tense meeting Wednesday night at the New Sardis Primitive Baptist Church.
Stephen Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association; Brian Betley, president of the Fraternal Order of Police; Cesar Herrera, president of the Hispanic Police Officers Association; and Lynn Hampton, president of the Black Shield Police Association, an organization representing black officers, participated in the event.
Tension filled the church from the time the event began at 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., when Reed ended the formal portion of the session. However, dozens of people stayed at the church until 10:30 p.m. for an impromptu question-and-answer session with the police union and organization leaders.
Here are five takeaways from the event.
1. Members of public voice frustration with police
Many in attendance were frustrated throughout the first half of the evening, regularly interrupting Reed and the police representatives. Anyone with a question was allowed to submit it in writing, but the public eventually grew restless, calling the event a “one-way-conversation” with only the police representatives being allowed to speak.
Pastor Larry D. Tatum ended the formal portion of the event with a few words for the audience.
“The kind of behavior that’s gone on at this meeting will never resolve anything,” he said.
2. Tamir Rice’s aunt speaks during question-and-answer session
The question-and-answer session proceeded with less tension, partly due to the fact that about half the crowd left before it began.
Michelle Thomas, aunt of Tamir Rice, was among those who spoke during the session. She questioned why a Cleveland police officer fatally shot the 12-year-old boy outside Cudell Recreation Center on Nov. 22, and why officers did not administer first aid immediately afterward. Rice wasn’t given first aid until a medically trained FBI agent on duty in the area arrived at the scene.
“He was only a child,” Thomas said. “Is that fair for him to be dead and for [the officers] to administer him no help?”
Loomis responded to Thomas by acknowledging Tamir’s death was a tragedy.
3. Police say dearth of officers an issue
Loomis said the city of Cleveland must hire an additional 200 police officers in order to address the problems outlined in the Justice Department report. Herrera echoed that notion by citing cutbacks to programs like the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program.
City Councilman Jeff Johnson, who attended the event, acknowledged the problem.
“It might not be an excuse … but there is a manpower issue that creates stress [for officers],” Johnson said.
4. Three police leaders say relationship between police, public not “broken”
Loomis, Betley and Herrera disagreed with the Justice Department’s conclusion that the relationship between the Cleveland Division of Police and the public is “broken.”
Only Hampton said police need to be proactive by implementing additional training in “cultural sensitivity” to address the issues outlined in the Justice Department report.
“We need to be proactive instead of reactive,” Hampton said. “We’re constantly reacting to things.”
5. Union leader says more training is necessary
The Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association believes an additional six weeks’ training in the police academy would benefit officers. That time could be used to teach officers how to interact with the community, Loomis said.
Loomis said the union intends to submit that suggestion to the Justice Department, which is currently working with city officials on a consent decree that will include specific reforms.