I-Team Report Spurs Discussion of Possible ‘Cleveland Collaborative’

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CLEVELAND--In the wake of an I-Team investigation into how Cincinnati made sweeping changes to its police department - changes that all sides now agree helped the city and its officers - at least two major groups in Cleveland say they'd be open to discussing the idea here.

Both the NAACP and a police union, the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association, said they would be willing to look further into what Cincinnati has done and see if something similar could work here.

Cleveland's new police chief, Calvin Williams, had agreed to an interview on the subject. He understandably had to re-schedule after a SWAT incident, but his office promised to reschedule the interview in the near future.

The Justice Department is currently investigating Cleveland police - in the wake of a tragic chase 15 months ago that ended with two unarmed people dead.

A police officer thought he heard a shot in downtown Cleveland.

It may have been a backfire from Timothy Russell's older model car.

Over 60 police cars chased Russell, 43, and his passenger, 30 -year-old Malissa Williams, for almost a half hour into East Cleveland before killing them in a hail of 137 bullets.

U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach says the Justice Department's investigation will go only where the evidence leads.

If it leads to a finding that Cleveland police engage in a pattern of excessive force, Dettelbach says the investigation would then look at "why is that happening, and then finally, a prescription, so what can you do to change things?"

Cincinnati was looking for changes in the wake of three days of unrest back in 2001.

The city's police forced had killed 16 African-American men or teens in five years - some of them unarmed.

Cincinnati's mayor, John Cranley, who was on council in 2001, says the city is proud of how it stood up for civil rights.

But he adds, "you've got to include the police in any changes in order not to have unintended consequences related to safety."

In Cincinnati, the police union was at first reluctant to join what's become known as "The Collaborative."

But the threat that a federal judge would impose changes without their input helped bring the union to the table.

Now, the union says the changes have made its officers jobs better and easier because of the cooperation they receive from the community.

"There was so much more accomplished than anyone expected," said Cincinnati FOP President Kathy Harrell.

The key is to build trust between the community and the police in a way that all
sides see working together as beneficial to them.

"Cities have to recognize now: policing is about a collaboration," said Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell.

"It's not, 'we do it our way, and you get out of the way.' It's let's do this together," Chief Blackwell said.

The highlights of The Collaborative include:

"All-Parties" meetings: police, politicians, police union members, and community members get together regularly to hammer out police issues;
"Problem-Solving Policing" hold the community responsible for helping the police reduce crime;
"Citizens Complaint Authority" - an independent body with real power to investigation accusations of police misconduct;
"Transparency" - most police matters are open for public examination.

Asked if he was open to discussing such a concept in Cleveland, CPPA President Jeff Follmer said "absolutely."

Follmer said he is not an expert on what Cincinnati has done, but that "it could" make his officers' jobs safer and better.

"If we can get better equipment, if we can get more training," Follmer said, "it could be safer for us, and things could go a lot smoother."

Sheila Wright, the executive director of the Cleveland NAACP, says the organization "would definitely want a voice in the process."

Wright thinks a federal judge should be involved as well - someone who can order changes if they cannot be reached by those involved.

"I think it would be necessary," Wright said, " to have someone with that kind of influence and authority."

Iris Roley is a community activist who has been involved with the Cincinnati Collaborative for years - a model that the Justice Department has held up when working with other cities such as Seattle and New Orleans.

"This is what Cleveland should know," Roley says of the changes that were made, "that it wasn't easy; it wasn't fast and it isn't overnight.

"But if you're committed and dedicated to making a change" she adds, "it can change."

CLICK to watch Bill's original report.