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GCRTA trustees approve creation of civilian oversight committee; new railcar funding announced

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Posted at 4:55 PM, Aug 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-23 19:03:15-04

CLEVELAND — The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday morning on a resolution that would create a seven member civilian oversight committee to review and investigate public complaints against transit police department employees. The resolution, which had the full support of GCRTA Police Chief Deirdre Jones, aims to enhance transparency and accountability, officials said.

According to the resolution, the seven members that would make up the committee would be screened and selected by the GCRTA Board of Trustees. The resolution also notes that the committee members be county residents and representative of the diverse communities in Cuyahoga County. At least one member shall be a retired police officer, the resolution states.

Once formed, the committee would have the power to receive, investigate and make recommendations to Jones as to how the complaint should be resolved.

“One of the things that we are looking at doing is connecting with the community. By doing so, we also are big on accountability and transparency,” Jones said. “What’s important is that we rebuild the trust that the community has lost in our police departments. In the wake of George Floyd and other incidents of police brutality, it’s important that we remain a strong ally and partner with the community.”

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The creation of the oversight committee is the end-result of months of research and communication between GCRTA administrators and the board of trustees, said GCRTA Chief Operating Officer Dr. Floun’say Caver.

“Communities, in particular communities of color, have oftentimes wanted to make sure that they could have transparency infused in their interactions with the police department,” Caver said. “The police department has done a terrific job but this is a good governance item. We have not had a major issue but this item allows us to have those institutional aspects so that if an issue were to occur, we have a mechanism for the community to be involved in how we resolve those issues.”

The oversight committee is part of a broader effort to build bridges between the community and the transit police, officials said. Nearly every transit police officer has been equipped with a body-worn camera system and the agency is also exploring whether to adopt dash cameras.

“This is our way of not only providing that transparency and accountability but just to let the community know that they are valued,” Chief Jones said. “Once you build that trust and you maintain that trust, then I think that any issue that comes up, I believe the community will trust or confidence that our police department — and GCRTA as a whole — will address any concerns that they have.”

At Tuesday’s board meeting, GCRTA Chief Executive Officer India Birdsong announced that the agency had been awarded $8 million in funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

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The state funding moves GCRTA closer to its $300 million funding goal as part of the railcar replacement project. Currently, the GCRTA has amassed just under $200 million in funding, according to Michael Schipper, the deputy general manager overseeing engineering and project management.

“Our railcars are some of the oldest in the country. They have far exceeded their 30 year lifespan,” Schipper said. “Even as we are in the process of procuring the rail cars, the new cars are still going to be 3-4 years from now.”

The $8 million in state funding, Schipper said, is vital in getting the GCRTA in a position to begin entering into contracts and having production on the new railcars begin.

“Our cars have served us well, but they are at the end of their useful life,” Schipper said.