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Courts and Crime


Cleveland's efforts to foster good community relations with police are being tested again
A recent police shooting has residents asking why, and the city working to keep the the situation from becoming critical
by WKSU's KEVIN NIEDERMIER


Reporter
Kevin Niedermier
 
The aftermath of the Cleveland police shooting that left 2 suspects dead and the community asking why it happened.
Courtesy of WEWS Newschannel 5
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In The Region:

Tension is high between many black Cleveland residents and the police following a recent deadly police shooting. Over the decades the quality of police/community relations has been up and down. Right now, residents and neighborhood activists are outraged that two, apparently unarmed suspects, were killed by police following a high-speed chase. Police say they thought they heard gunfire from the suspect’s car, but residents say the barrage of nearly 140 police bullets fired were excessive. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier looks at the volatile history of this community relationship.

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At East 125th and Kinsman on Cleveland’s, residents are heading in and out of a busy convenience store in the predominantly black neighborhood.  Butch Anderson lives nearby and has mixed feelings about trusting police officers.

“It’s like they’re targeting blacks. If you do stuff in white neighborhoods you’re not going to getting what they’re doing here. I haven’t had serious run ins with police recently, but when I did, they were polite and stuff, I’ve been in a situation where they drew guns on me. And it depends on who stops you, they might just not like blacks. They need to change their policies, maybe give supervisors more control over serious situations.”

Another resident Kinsman resident, Rodney Stroud, has grown to see police differently.

Not all Clevleand residents mistrust the police

“I think the police are doing their job and the public needs to recognize that and not judge them like they do. I used to be one of those trouble makers in the street, but I changed my ways. I’ve learned that if I do no wrong then I won’t have any involvement with the police.”

The relationship between residents and police has been up and down for decades according to Cleveland Community Relations Director Blaine Griffin. He says an historic low came after the Glenville riots during the hot summer of 1968. It was sparked by a deadly shootout between police and Black Nationalists.  And more recently, the 2005 police shooting of teenager Brandon McCloud created outrage that grew after a federal appeals court threw out a wrongful death suit against the two officers.   McCloud was suspected of robbing a pizza delivery man, and police detectives shot him as he barged out of his bedroom closet holding a knife.   Griffin says the situation between residents and the police is not at a critical stage following the recent shooting. But he says it could easily escalate if the community feels the investigation isn’t transparent, or if communication from the city slows down. That’s why the city held a community meeting a week after the shooting to outline what is known and how the investigation will proceed. More meetings will be held as the case moves forward. And Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation has been called in to oversee the case. Community Relations Director Griffin says this is in addition to what the city has been doing for years to foster better understanding between police and residents.

Cleveland makes effort to foster good relations before insidents happen

“The commander of each district meets with community residents each month, we have several kinds of events to reach out to young people to build good relations between them and the police, we have programs explaining what to do when stopped by the police.”

And Griffin credits the 2005 election of Mayor Frank Jackson for creating one of the city’s most harmonious periods of police and community relations.

“The first thing he did when elected was implement a use of deadly force policy that gave police parameters. And when I talk to civil rights groups and community activists, they believe the right policies are in place and we stay in constant communication, so even though we have some of these events that are sensationalized and filled with emotions at times, the preventive work we do helps keep things from getting worse.”

Cleveland NAACP President James Hardiman says the use of deadly force police is a small step in the right direction.”

Cleveland NAACP says efforts are steps in right direction, but more is needed

“Any policy is only as effective as the people who implement it. So if we have a policy that’s ignored it’s just as bad as no policy at all. So I personally believe that severe repercussions for people who violate the policy.”

Hardiman says the suspects in the recent shooting should not have fled police, but the ensuing chase and 137 shots fired were excessive.He commends Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath for publicly calling the shooting a tragedy, and for promising a through, transparent investigation. For the future, Hardiman recommends more thorough screening of police recruits, and possibly requiring officers to have college degrees.

“In some cities a college degree is required. That doesn’t mean a person with a college degree is going to be more sympathetic or understanding, but better education tends to create a better police officer.”

The Cleveland NAACP is reviewing about 10 years of deadly and excessive force cases in the city. Hardiman says they’ve uncovered many alleged racial profiling incidents, but few police convictions, issues that help fuel community mistrust of police.  He says his organization is urging the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the recent police shooting and recommend changes in policy, or, as the Justice Department has done in other cities, force the police department to change the way they operate.                                                                                                         
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