Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cleveland Ward 1 residents, Black elected officials, police union president and community activists speak out on new Cleveland police body cameras at community forum that follows racial unrest on police killings, including Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, and 137 shots police shooting victims Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, second forum is January 28 at 7 pm at the Covenant Community Church in Cleveland

Cleveland Ward 2 Councilman
Zack Reed
Cleveland Ward 1 Councilman
Terrell Pruitt
By Johnette Jernigan and Kathy Wray Coleman, editor-in-chief, Cleveland Urban News.Com, and the Kathy Wray Coleman Online News, Ohio's most read digital Black newspaper and newspaper blog. Tel: (216) 659-0473.
Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association President Steve Loomis
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CLEVELAND, Ohio-Ward 1 residents were given the opportunity on Tuesday during a community forum at the Harvard Community Services Center on Cleveland's largely Black east side to voice concerns over police body cameras that will be implemented next month per an ordinance adopted last year by Cleveland City Council. The second of the two meetings scheduled for community input is Wednesday January 28 at 7 pm at the Covenant Community Church in Cleveland, 3342 East 119th Street.

Harvard Community Services Center
President and CEO Elaine Gholstin
Tuesday's forum included a video presentation and sample body cameras for residents to critique. 

Community activists had pushed for the body cameras during local anti-police brutality protests that have become routine in recent months, as have police killings of unarmed Black people. 

Residents, community activists, and Black elected officials said at the forum last night that the cameras are a better choice than dash cams because they can operate when police do house calls, and when they are otherwise addressing community discrepancies away from their police cruisers. And residents said that the cameras are better than nothing at all in terms of policing the police that police the community, and providing at least a glimpse of what might have occurred doing a questionable police shooting or other controversial encounter with residents.

"I think it will show the people what actually happened," said one resident.

Ward 2 Councilman Zack Reed, an outspoken proponent of the cameras who was in attendance, agreed, and said that the city will "now have a tool in place to ensure that we will see at least maybe not all things that are happening but at least a clearer picture." 

Reed, who said that he has been advocating for the cameras for 10 years, called the cameras a win-win for police and the community, and "a victory for the city."

Other cities experimenting with the body cameras include Louisville, KY, Albuquerque, NM, New Orleans, LA, Salt Lake City, UT, Oakland, CA and Ft. Worth, TX.

Ward 1 Councilman Terrell Pruitt also spoke to Cleveland Urban News.Com and said that the cameras are "a good first step and a goal to improve their [the police] and the community's perception of their work."

Elaine Gohlstin, president and CEO of the Harvard Community Services Center, was pleased with the community event.

"I think it was wonderful opportunity for residents of southeast Cleveland and beyond to have a forum to express concerns about the cameras and other issues," said Gholstin.

The forum was the first of two community sessions sponsored by the city's Community Relations Board, which is led by director Blaine Griffin, and the Cleveland Division of Police.

Safety Director Michael McGrath, a ranking member of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's law enforcement leadership team, and Fourth District Commander Deon McCaulley, were among those there representing the division of police.

Not all residents want the cameras. 

Ward 1 resident Greg Jackson, 49, a little league football coach who coaches the Cleveland Warriors youth football team in Ward 1, said that the he believes that the monies for the cameras could have better spent, and should have been allocated "for more youth programs."

The Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association, the union for police patrolmen, prefers dash cams over the body cameras that also depict audio and video. And police are in conflict with some city councilpersons who, like community activists, want the cameras, which are public records, on and operating at all times possible.

Police union president Steve Loomis told Cleveland Urban News.Com during the forum that dash cams are on at all times and that the body cams are ineffective when on-duty police are running and gunning.

"They will leave a lot of unanswered questions," said Loomis. "And they will create more controversy than solve problems."

Loomis said that his union has been fighting for dash cams since 2006, and to no avail. 

Cleveland police have ordered body cameras for its roughly 1,500 police officers that will be tested initially in the fourth district, the city's largest police district, and one with the highest crime rate. 

A U.S. Department of Justice report issued last year found systemic problems in the largely White police department, including a pattern of excessive force and mistreatment of the mentally ill.

Late last year police gunned down 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was Black, at a public park on the city's west side, claiming a toy pellet gun might have been real, and though police dispatchers were told that it was likely a fake gun.

And 13 non- Black police officers, slinging 137 bullets, gunned down unarmed Blacks Malissa Williams and Tim Russell in 2012 following a police car chase that began in downtown Cleveland that ended in neighboring East Cleveland. 

Police claim that they mistook Russell's car, a 1979 Chevy Malibu Classic,  backfiring for a gun shot.

Last November Cleveland cops, responding to a 9-1-1 call,  killed Tanisha Anderson, an unarmed 37-year-old mentally ill woman, at her home on the city's east side when the family sought mental health assistance. 

Protests continue as tension increases between police and the community, the Black community in particular.

An  impoverished city 
with all the trappings of a large urban center, including debilitating poverty, high crime rates, 
and struggling public schools, but admired for its versatility, Cleveland is roughly 58 percent Black, and will host the 2016 Republican National Convention.

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