Council committee passes emergency ordinance to change the Civilian Police Review Board

Posted at 5:48 PM, Aug 09, 2016

Changes to Cleveland's Civilian Police Review Board are now one step closer to reality as a city council committee approved an emergency ordinance Tuesday that would overhaul the troubled board. City council will vote on the measure Wednesday.

"Neither OPS [Office of Professional Standards] or the board is where they need or want to be at this point," said Greg White, a former US Attorney hired by the city of Cleveland to implement changes as ordered by the consent decree.

The consent decree is an agreement between the city and the US Department of Justice to implement police reform within the Cleveland Police Department and city agencies.

The review board, which began in 1988, is charged with ruling on citizen complaints made against Cleveland Police officers. The Office of Professional Standards, or OPS, is charged with investigating the complaints. Both are city entities. Board members receive an annual stipend of about $7,000.

White announced in Tuesday's meeting that there are 406 outstanding cases that have yet to be resolved. Dozens of them date back two years.

"Why has the board been so ineffective all of these years?" asked NewsChannel 5 reporter Kristin Volk to Thomas Jones, the chairman of the review board. "I disagree with your statement about the board being ineffective," Jones responded.

Jones said there is no backlog of cases with the board. The backlog lies with OPS investigating cases.

Damon Scott, a city employee who made $86,000 last year, leads OPS. Once again, he declined to answer any of Volk's questions following the committee meeting.

"You've done the best reporting on this of anyone so far," said Councilman Matt Zone who chairs the safety committee, which approved the emergency ordinance to overhaul the board.

The ordinance, if passed by city council and then by voters in November, would increase the board's members from seven to nine. There would be representation from all police districts and one member would be between the ages of 18 to 30. Plus, there would be a new rule that no member be a current law enforcement officer or a current or former employee of the Cleveland Police Department.

"I have no issue with any of those items in the proposal," added Jones.

Zone said it would be roughly two years before all new members are in place, five of them chosen by the mayor, four of them chosen by council. The new members would then choose a new chairman.

As for the Office of Professional Standards, city officials said there will be changes within the agency as part of the consent decree. That includes adding two more investigators.

The ACLU of Ohio released a statement Tuesday criticizing the ordinance. They said it is insufficient because of the amount of power that the police chief and the director of public safety have over the board. As it stands with the new ordinance, and as it stood before, the police chief can reject the board's disciplinary recommendations of an officer. The director of public safety will have the power to remove members from the review board.

"We cannot have meaningful civilian oversight of police if the chief can toss out the citizen board's recommendations for any reason," said Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio.