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Five years later, community reflects on what’s changed, and what hasn’t, since Tamir Rice’s shooting death

Posted at 6:00 AM, Nov 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-22 18:20:43-05

CLEVELAND — After the outrage and demonstrations in 2014 after Tamir Rice was shot and killed, how the community views the work that's been done in Cleveland's Police Department since depends on where you sit.

"A lot of talk, very little action," said Civil Rights Attorney Subodh Chandra, who represents Tamir Rice's family.

"We are receiving just as many calls or contacts today, more even, than we were in 2014 about potential uses of force," said Chandra.

See News 5's coverage of the Rice family announcing a legacy fund remembering Tamir here.

Chandra said any changes the Police Department has made won't matter as much until there's a new culture and new leaders in the Police Department who are committed to what he calls meaningful change and accountability.

"They also have to have a top echelon of Commanders who are all singing from the same hymnal," said Chandra. "They've got to have a Deputy Police Chief who's committed, they've got to have Deputy Commissioners who are committed to change and accountability and to teach the officer that, 'Look, it's a new day.'"

"I think there's very strong evidence that the department has made significant strides and it is in a much better place than it was five years ago," said Cleveland State University Law Professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich, who also worked with the Community Police Commission to advise the city and the monitor on its policies.

See News 5's recent coverage of Officer Timothy Loehmann here.

Since 2014, when the Department of Justice found patterns of excessive force by Cleveland Police leading to the Consent Decree to monitor the Cleveland Police Department.

Before 2014, when a complaint about an officer went to the Office of Professional Standards to investigate, Witmer-Rich says it was added to a backlog of cases that never seemed to move.

Now, the most recent monitor report says that's no longer the case.

Read that report here:

Monitor Sept 2019 Report by Wews WebStaff on Scribd

"It looks like that office is starting to function and it really hasn't functioned for years," said Witmer-Rich.

But the ultimate way to determine if the Consent Decree is working might be the hardest to measure: trust.

"The very beginning of the Consent Decree talked about trust between the community and the police," said Witmer-Rich. "That's really the fundamental issue here, is trust. When you have trust between a community and its police department, you can have mistakes made on either side and you can still have a functioning relationship and you can move forward. But when there's a really severe breakdown in trust, and that was definitely the case, then it's very hard to have a well-functioning police department."

News 5 reached out to the Cleveland Police Department, which was unable to schedule an interview before this story aired.