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Finalist for new Community Police Commission employs officers at private security company

Cleveland Police in front of Cleveland sign
John McGraw
Cleveland police officers photographed in July 2016.

One of the finalists for a seat on the new Community Police Commission, Charlotte Perkins, has run a private security company on Cleveland’s East Side for 22 years.

The company, R-Cap, hires Cleveland police officers to perform off-duty security work for businesses. Some of the company’s contracts require that she provide off-duty police officers.

“I will be totally above board, if I’m chosen, to let you know this person is in my employment,” Perkins said during her public interview with the panel interviewing finalists for spots on the CPC. “And if I need to excuse myself, if that’s what the commission wants, then I will do that also.”

The officers who work for Perkins are independent contractors, meaning the 15 to 20 Cleveland officers Perkins said she currently employs does not capture the total number of officers who are available to work for her, depending on the contracts she’s filling.

The chair of the selection committee, Chief Ethics Officer Delanté Spencer Thomas, said there is a potential for a conflict-of-interest if an officer who works for Perkins comes in front of the commission, but Thomas indicated it might not be a major one.

“If all of your employees make it a conflict-of-interest, then that makes it a potential concern that we have to talk through,” Thomas said.

Perkins said a total of about 60 people work for her.

Perkins is one of 27 finalists from a group of around 300 applicants for the 13 seats on the commission.

Mayor Justin Bibb will make 10 nominations, and the other three spots will be filled by city council. According to Thomas, the panel plans to make recommendations to Bibb by the end of July before he forwards names to council for approval.

A spokesperson said the city was aware of Perkins’ potential conflict of interest before advancing her to the interview round.

“It is possible that the Ohio Ethics Commission would require further restrictions,” Marie Zickefoose said via email. “This was disclosed in her application, discussed during her interview, and is an example of the vetting process at work. These are all factors that the City will consider as we implement the most significant reform project in the nation.”

Cleveland’s rules for off-duty police work are not based on national best practices. Payment and scheduling are not handled internally — instead each employer hires and pays the officers directly. The contract with the patrol officers’ union requires they are allowed to work off-duty jobs. Officers just need approval from a supervisor before scheduling each off-duty shift.

According to a lawsuit filed recently by the former head of the Black Shield Association, Vincent Montague, security work is controlled in each part of the city by officers working in that district, raising questions about whether Perkins’ potential conflict-of-interest would be limited to officers she employs who come in front of the CPC.

The city recently settled a lawsuit brought by the family of Thomas Yatsko, who was killed in 2018 by an off-duty police officer working security at the now-closed Corner Alley in University Circle.

In a deposition filed in that case, management for the bowling alley and bar described a highly informal system where payment went to a police lieutenant each week and an officer would show up for work on Friday and Saturday night. Bar management were not told who would be working beforehand and were not able to place any restrictions on the officer’s conduct. The officer at Corner Alley, Sgt. Dean Graziolli kicked the 21-year-old Yatsko out, then followed him outside, where an altercation occurred that led to Graziolli killing Yatsko.

Perkins told her interviewers Thursday that she does not think her business interests would affect her work on the commission, which has ultimate oversight over officer discipline, training and policies.

“I do know that I am a fair person and I know people, I think I’m a pretty good judge of them,” Perkins said. “I try to employ people who know how to work with African Americans, people who are homeless, because some of my contracts are with plasma centers.”

Matthew Richmond is a general assignment reporter at Ideastream Public Media who focuses on criminal justice.