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Cleveland police release body camera footage of protests

Incident commander heard giving dispersal orders
dispersal order
Posted at 8:09 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 23:40:39-04

CLEVELAND — In response to a request from News 5, Cleveland police have released body camera footage from the first weekend of protests in Cleveland, leading up to pepper spray and other tactics being deployed.

Before the incident commander gives the first dispersal order to a small group of protesters, officers can be heard discussing what they're dealing with.

"Be aware: one can thrown, looked like a can of Raid or wasp spray," one man says, via radio.

"Two people in the crowd with baseball bats," another said.

As they discuss the dispersal orders, one officer says, "we have to target specifically the individuals that are throwing bottles and other objects at the officers as well as the building."

About five minutes into the 10-minute-long clip released by police, the incident commander begins to give the first dispersal order by megaphone to a small group on the side of the Justice Center.

"This is the Cleveland Division of Police," she said. "You need to disperse the area."

In the next few minutes, the incident commander and other officers make their way up the steps toward more protesters. She gives two more dispersal orders, but it becomes increasingly hard to hear them over the volume of the crowd.

The video ends before the rioting and pepper-spraying begin.

"In that clip, I thought they handled it relatively well. They were rather sedate in that episode," said Ronnie Dunn, Ph.D., the chief diversity officer and an associate professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University.

Dunn is a member of the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board, established under Governor John Kasich, which put forth eight statewide standards on policing. Agencies can go through a certification process to show they're in compliance with those standards, which include use of force, recruiting and hiring, and bias-free policing, among others.

"Initially, when I saw the footage of some of the damage and rioting and looting that transpired after the initial protest down by the Justice Center, I questioned, one, where were the resources that were left behind after the RNC, as well as that training that had been implemented during that, in preparation for that," Dunn said.

Dunn said overall, Cleveland police handled past demonstrations, including ones at the Republican National Convention and those following Tamir Rice's death, better than they handled some of the recent ones.

"This one, I don’t know. They didn’t appear to be prepared," Dunn said. "I think they underestimated the severity or the potential for things to get a little out of hand."

He said officers could do better, amplifying dispersal orders by using a loudspeaker on a police cruiser and reciting the orders several more times, closer to the core of where most protesters were, although he said they were dealing with a lot of noise that made it hard to hear.

Dunn, who said he had been down at the protests earlier in the day, said he saw officers in paramilitary-type gear earlier in the day, which looked "very ominous and militaristic."

Still, he acknowledged it's not an easy situation for police, either.

"I don’t diminish the difficulty in which officers are confronted, by no means," Dunn said. "But once again, I think the posture of the police presence can further incite and agitate the crowds as well and add to the volatility of the situation."

As for what Cleveland police could do better, he said the department could agree to go through the certification process to show compliance with those statewide standards, as a show of good faith to the community.

Even though Cleveland police are already under a federal consent decree, he said he believes this would send the right message.

"It would show their commitment, their true commitment to policing the right way, to being transparent and being willing to transform," Dunn said. "We don’t want to continue to talk about reforming the police, because, to me, that infers that at some prior point in our past, the police were functioning in a way that was constitutional and just for everyone, and we know when we look at the history of policing and the relationship with the African American community, in particular, that point in time never existed. So I prefer to use the term transform policing."

He added, "Law enforcement in general, at this point in time, should do everything they can to win the trust and confidence of the communities that they’re sworn to serve."