Cleveland mayoral candidates sound off on police reform, racial equity and government transparency

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Posted at 6:42 AM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 08:30:39-04

CLEVELAND — Cleveland’s seven mayoral candidates took the debate stage Tuesday night. All of the candidates took part in a debate moderated by Ideastream. They tackled topics like racial and health equity, public safety and housing.

The questions came directly from the voters—the residents of Cleveland.

Not every one of the 7 candidates answered every question, but they all answered a question in each category.


Q: Do you believe our law enforcement should be responding to mental health crisis incidents in the city of Cleveland?

State Senator Sandra Williams:

"As a parole officer, I used to go out to homes by myself on a regular basis and I would find that the situation that I was called out there for by my parolee was actually not something that needed to be handled by law enforcement officers. I definitely think that law enforcement officers need to be in the background and we need to have mental health counselors, as well as alcohol and drug addiction counselors with law enforcement officers when they go out. I believe that we should have a dual approach. Law enforcement should be in the background. And the experts that handle mental health issues should be the ones addressing that issue that will stop so many people from being arrested needlessly because they have a mental health condition."

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley:

"When there is a call for service for mental health consumer, that call for service, they don't know what the circumstances are and it can be a dangerous situation. The police need to be involved. I am a former social worker. I worked in community mental health for over 15 years and I understand what these calls for service are, the volatility that's there. The police need to be the first responders, but that doesn't mean it has to be our last interaction. Mental health professionals can accompany the police, they can advise, but they shouldn't be first on scene and it's becoming too easy to say we're going to put social workers on these calls for service. The police are trained to handle volatile situations. Mental health professionals can support that. It's not as simple as saying that we can make determinations of who should be responding to what calls everybody in that equation from the police, mental health professionals to the whole community, needs to work together to figure out how to solve that."

Nonprofit executive Justin Bibb:

"Nearly five years ago, I lost my cousin Chris, who was brutally choked to death by his partner, who suffered a mental health episode and it took E.M.S. nearly 40 minutes to show up. What we've seen, all across this country, are cities doing the hard work of rethinking what policing should look like. I believe we should have a call responder model in all of our five police districts. In the city of Cleveland, in 2016, we did an 18-month pilot in the 2nd district and we showed that nearly 37% of the 911 calls did not warrant an armed response from police. So, it is easy and practical because we have already done it in the city of Cleveland. We should follow what Columbus has done and Denver has done, as well, and execute a co-responder model in all of our 5 police districts and as mayor, also want to add a fourth option to 911 and relate it to mental health so we do have the right response for the right call because we can't continue to have a public-safety-only lens and model to solve the root causes of violent crime and trauma all across our city."

Q: What will you do as mayor to make people feel safe when calling the police?

City Councilman Basheer Jones:

"Well, first, we have to become a city where we are focused more on rehabilitation instead of incarceration, and as mayor I want to create a mobile crisis unit. We understand that over 70% of our phone calls are domestic issues, so we have to know that cops are not the only ones who should be solving these problems. Mental health experts are extremely important. But as mayor, I also want to say that if we're going to be successful, we have to understand that adding more cops may not be the solution and ineffective spending may also not be the solution. We see that we have a general budget of 335 million dollars and we have added money to this every single year, but yet and still, the city of Cleveland has 3 times the national crime statistics so, more money is not going to be the solution. Community policing, working with the police. I want to say this is important as well, because our officers put their lives on the line every single day. We should not criminalize great officers. There's a lot of great officers who come to work every single day to do a great job and we need to make sure that they have the technology and equipment to do their job properly, along with making sure that mental health experts are with them."

Former councilman Zack Reed:

"First of all, you should feel safe calling the police, but second of all, I'm the only one on this stage that has put out on their website, for the public to view, a 10-point safety plan. A 10-point safety plan that even The Plain Dealer, in the editorial this weekend, said ‘Zack Reed has it right,’ because when you're calling police, that is reactive and what you're saying, young lady, we need a police force that is going to be proactive and that's the reason I've said that we've got to start looking at public safety from a different lens, let's stop looking at it from a criminal justice lens and let's start looking at it for what it is. We need to start to look at it from a public health lens and if we're dealing with the public health lens, then we're putting out violent interrupters, formerly incarcerated men and women that are walking your neighborhood, walk in your community and talking to you, so we don't have to call the police on every single call."

Attorney Ross DiBello:

"This is about accountability, accountability, accountability and Zack’s largely right, most of our officers are great. I’m supporting the Citizens for Safer CLE amendment to make the charter permanent. We need a change in culture.These incidents are tearing apart the fabric, not just of Cleveland, but of the whole country. I also believe that we need to do a co-responder model, hire more mental health professionals, social workers, code enforcement. If you know you're calling for something that can be done by a code enforcer, then you'll feel more comfortable calling. This gets toward walking the beat, doing violence interruption, getting to know your local officer as though you would your mail person. But in the end, accountability is the only thing that's going to change the world 5,10 years from now."

Q: Is hiring more police officers the answer to the rise in violence on the streets?

Former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich:

"I say that in the face of a siege of crime affecting so many of our neighborhoods, of drive-by shootings that are terrorizing communities of gangs that ride wild from east side to west side on dirt bikes and ATMs, shooting guns off, people want to be protected and they want to make sure that the tax dollars are already paying go to their safety, but we just don't have enough police. I've talked to police, they're stretched right now. We need more people who can be involved, but they need to be better trained. They need to be racially sensitive. They need to be trained in constitutional rights. They need to be better educated generally. But we need more police to be able to fight homicides. We need people in a scientific investigation unit to be able to keep track of the crimes that have been committed and try to hunt down those criminals. Cleveland is one of the most violent cities in America right now and until we are able to assure people that the public safety of Cleveland can be the first priority of the government, people won't have confidence that the government can protect them."

Click here to watch the entire debate and the candidates sound off on other topics including racial equity, health equity, housing and government transparency.

The primary election is Sept. 14, the race will be narrowed down to just 2 candidates. Early voting for the primary starts on Aug. 17. The general election is Nov. 2.