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Community, families demand accountability: ‘You can’t have the police investigating the police’

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has directed the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) to...
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has directed the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) to expedite the final examinations of about 300 police cadets and allow them to quickly bolster the ranks of law enforcement in Ohio amid the coronavirus outbreak.(Ohio Attorney General's Office)
Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 10:21 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a consent decree in 2015. An investigation found there was a “pattern of excessive force and that operational and structural issues within the Cleveland Division of Police contribute to this practice.”

The agreement will likely sunset sometime in the next few years. However, a growing chorus says it hasn’t done enough to reform Cleveland police procedures and punishment.

Years after traumatic encounters with police, some families are demanding change.

Brenda Bickerstaff’s brother Craig Miller was shot and killed by Cleveland police in 2002. Alicia Kirkman’s son Angelo Miller was shot and killed by Cleveland police in 2007. Both killings were ruled justified.

All these years later, the women continue their search for accountability. They’re now part of a coalition called Citizens for a Safer Cleveland. It’s a ballot initiative that seeks community oversight over the Cleveland police department.

The women, attorney Subodh Chandra, and other families have come together to push for multilateral reform.

“You’ve got this kind of semi toothless civilian police review board that does investigations; I think that’s trying to do a good job,” said Chandra. “They make recommendations. The recommendations don’t have any teeth.”

“Right now, it really functions as just a review body, and we felt well it should actually have the power to implement its recommendations,” said Rachael Collyer.

The initiative will strengthen the existing civilian police review board. It will also make permanent the community police commission, which the consent decree has temporarily established. It’ll be comprised of 13 individuals representing the overall demographics of Cleveland.

“You can’t have the police investigating the police,” said Bickerstaff.

The commission, which will have slots designated for gun violence survivors, the wrongly incarcerated, and victims of police violence, will carry ultimate authority over punishment for officers in excessive force cases.

“(The commission) will have the ability in appropriate circumstances to overrule the chief to overrule the safety director,” said Chandra.

“What we want to do is have civilian values community values expressed in the hiring and the training and the discipline process,” said Chandra.

“This is going to bring accountability to this city. And this is what the residents and the citizens want,” said Bickerstaff.

“We’re living in a moment of change, and Cleveland hasn’t the opportunity to be a change-maker and a leader when it comes to dealing with the problem of police brutality,” said Collyer.

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