In a room packed with cameras on the ninth floor of Cleveland police headquarters, chief Calvin Williams chews on his upper lip to bite back tears.
He does not often show such emotion. The chief is always crisp, from his close-cropped haircut to spit-black shoes. Usually he stands almost at attention, a discipline instilled by his time with the SWAT unit. Once, in 1997, then-Sgt. Williams tackled a gun-waving bank robber. A tussle and two bullet holes in the ceiling later, Williams held the gun and the robber was in handcuffs. When things are tough, Williams does not shy away.
But at the lectern, the chief looks like he hasn't slept. The previous day, he welcomed Cleveland's consent decree monitor — the beginning of what will be a difficult and expensive round of police reform. Hours later, as he stood near East 143rd Street and Kinsman Road to announce the senseless shooting of 6-month-old Aavielle Wakefield, the third child killed in just over a month, Williams turned away from the cameras as his eyes welled. Not so today.
"We've lost three young, innocent lives. It's hard to stomach that because it's not for any reason that we can come up with, not for any reason any sensible person can come up with," Williams says at the police headquarters Oct. 2. With no leads less than 24 hours after the shooting, he says, investigators are waiting for the public to call. "I really implore our community to step forward, to not just say but show enough is enough."
Implied in his emotional speech is a simple truth of policing. Residents must feel their police force treats them fairly, that they know personally the officers who patrol their block. In return for such trust, the residents offer information about what's going on in their neighborhood. But in Cleveland, trust is rarely offered and just as rarely earned.
In Cincinnati during the early 2000s, the city experienced a similar problem. In response to police shootings, the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood descended into riots. In 2001 and 2002, the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union and Justice Department entered into separate agreements with the city. While the Justice Department dealt with procedural reform, the ACLU agreement founded the collaborative agreement.
The civilian-driven agreement attempted to rebuild trust by implementing a hybrid community and problem-oriented policing model. Where community policing gets officers more involved in the neighborhood, walking foot beats and attending block gatherings, problem-oriented policing comes afterward. Community policing builds trust, and problem-oriented policing harnesses that trust to tackle neighborhood problems. Police aren't just present — they're listening, analyzing and acting.
"The function of the police is to address the problems that beset the community, to divide these large things like crime or disorder into smaller components," says John Eck, University of Cincinnati professor and former Police Executive Research Forum research director, who helped negotiate the agreement.
For example, Cincinnati's final report mentions a rash of 25 copper thefts in 2005-06 in the Northside neighborhood. To stop the thefts, police and property owners partnered to paint the pipes green. On each of the 98 properties, signs went up indicating the owners were working with the police. About 6 months after the program's implementation, community members reported only four copper-related break-ins, and only one in which green-painted copper was stolen.
"Community policing is the heart, and problem-oriented policing is the mind," says Eck. "You've got to do both."
In Cleveland, there is much talk of community policing but little of problem-oriented policing — even though the model is mandated by the consent decree. Yet the same culture that created Cincinnati's collaborative agreement could make the problem-solving model stick in Cleveland, says senior policy director Mike Brickner of the Ohio ACLU.
"[Community members] were directly involved instead of everything just happening around them," says Brickner. "When you have more people willing to take ownership of the situation, you have a higher level of investment and you're going to see longer-term successes."
But a new way of policing will never be implemented if officers aren't partners. In Cincinnati, the Fraternal Order of Police leadership largely supported the agreement.
"It was really important on both sides, both community and police, to change the rhetoric that they were using and see one another as partners," says Brickner.
By comparison, Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association president Steve Loomis says his organization's suggestions have been mostly ignored. He would like a more substantive ear for his officers who, after all, hit the streets and police every day.
"We need to communicate much better than we do," says Loomis.
Loomis would like a return to pre-2004 staffing levels, when the city cut more than 250 police positions, along with the
re-establishment of community policing mini-stations. He has also proposed putting officers in every city-owned building, from schools to rec centers to libraries, so officers would regularly interact with residents and build trust, especially with young people.
"Right now, we are completely a reactionary police department," he says.
Cincinnati's collaborative agreement also established the Citizen Complaint Authority, an independent civilian body to hear resident complaints. CCA investigators wield subpoena power, and the results of its investigations are passed to the city manager and police chief to determine disciplinary action.
Cleveland's review board does not operate with the same degree of independence. Even after the consent decree, its investigations are still not reviewed for possible disciplinary action by anyone outside of the Department of Public Safety.
The city has a long way to go toward greater transparency, says councilman Jeff Johnson. He is a proponent of a more independent review board.
"It helps with police-community relations, but it also helps to have a better chance at actually disciplining police when they cross the line," says Johnson.
Cincinnati still struggles with policing and race relations. Protestors took to the streets when Samuel DuBose was killed by a University of Cincinnati police officer this year.
But an analysis by the university's Institute for Crime Science found violent crime incidents have decreased from 4,137 in 2002 to 2,352 in 2014. From 2006 to 2014, felony arrests decreased by 40 percent. And police use of force incidents decreased from 1,098 in 2004 to 390 in 2014, a whopping 64 percent.
Despite those numbers, the inequities of policing in Cincinnati are still stark. According to the Marshall Project, from 1998 to August 2015 Cincinnati police have shot five white people. In that same period, 59 black people were shot.
Cincinnati's example, like any in criminal justice reform, is imperfect. But a community-involved approach like Cincinnati's collaborative agreement and an activist Cleveland Community Police Commission can improve our city's chances at accomplishing real, substantive reform. It's what's needed to bridge the rift between police and residents, the kind of bond that encourages someone to pick up the phone without hesitation and bring Aavielle Wakefield's killers to justice.
"We need people out in the community that are concerned with black lives, with brown lives, with white lives, with purple lives to step out and do something, not just have chants and slogans and marches," said Williams at the press conference. "If people step out and do something, we can take care of this. We've heard the stats. We know what's happened. What are we going to do?"