November 3, 2015 by

Cleveland’s “Our Land” Series: Creatively Obtaining Community Feedback

policingproject_cleveland“What should community policing look like, and how far are we from it?”

That’s the first question Tony Ganzer asks all his guests on Our Land, a new program on Cleveland’s public radio station that is intended to gain and share the perspectives of Cleveland community members on their interactions with the police.

Ganzer came up with the idea for the program last May, after the Department of Justice entered into a consent decree with the city to address the department’s findings that “the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

He interviews community activists and officers—from Detective Stephen Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, to David Fields, a Cleveland high school sophomore.

Ganzer’s interviews, which provide a source of informal on-the-street feedback about implementation of the decree, have elicited a wide variety of sentiment. There is a consensus that tensions are currently high. Loomis believes “we are miles away” from what community policing should look like, but believes a major obstacle is the lack of “manpower.” Several community members expressed a desire to engage with the police in a more cordial manner. Frank Caffrey, a Cleveland resident, finds police do not wave hello to you even when “you’re 10 feet away and they just look at you like they’re disgusted with you, and just keep going.” Willie Jones, another Cleveland resident, believes policing should involve “officers getting out of the squad cars, interacting with the public…walking back the beats like they did back in the seventies and the late eighties. Just interacting with the people.”

The decree, which seeks to build up the public confidence in the police, mandates the establishment of a 13-member Community Police Commission (CPC) that will make recommendations on community-oriented, bias-free, transparent policing. The CPC is to hold meetings throughout the city to identify and address community problems. But CPC members already have a portal to the views of community residents by way of Ganzer’s series.

In other words, Ganzer is bringing the consent decree into the lives of average citizens.

The agreement will also revamp the police department’s training and data collection practice, and will establish an independent monitor to ensure its goals are met.

While the monitor is charged with following the progress of the consent decree, Our Land provides a unique monitoring system of its own. An interview with Stephen Williams, a youth minister, highlights the ability of the series to track community views on the progress of the decree. When asked what community policing should look like, Williams states, “I believe we’re getting close there in this community, because we have police officers walking the beat now…so that’s really good, I think that’s some forward progress.” As the series continues, it will be interesting to hear if perspectives change and more residents begin to feel optimistic about police-community relations.