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Feb. 2, 2015

CSU hosts forum on community-police relations

By Melanie Morris and Kevin Alquist

The Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations, appointed by Gov. John Kasich, held its first meeting in the Waetjen Auditorium on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

The 24-member task force was announced in December after a series of incidents in Ohio and around the nation stressed the need for a strong, understanding relationship between communities and the police force.

The task force will analyze law enforcement policies, the criminal justice system and police training among other issues brought to its attention by the communities.

Cleveland State University professor Ronnie Dunn and former Cincinnati Bengals football player Anthony Munoz are some of the individuals involved with the task force. Former Ohio Gov. George Voinovich and former Congressman Louis Stokes serve as honorary co-chairs of the task force. Former Ohio Sen. Nina Turner serves as co-chair and hosted the majority of the meeting.

This is Dunn’s area of expertise, as he has done research on this subject for the past 17 years and has completed three separate studies of the Cleveland Police Department. Dunn came up with the idea of the task force.

“I am cautiously optimistic that the task force will be able to identify critical areas of conflict and need between police and the African-American, minority, and adversely impacted communities,” Dunn said.

He hopes public safety will be enhanced while impartial and just policies are created to improve the relationship between the community and the police. He thinks the task force held their first meeting in Cleveland because of the recent police-involved shootings and the fact that there are five Cleveland-based members on the team.

Rob Nichols, Kasich’s press secretary, said Cleveland is one of a number of cities that the task force will focus on because of the issues with police relations within the community.

The first half of the forum comprised of presentations from U.S. Attorney Steven Dettlebach from the Northern District of Ohio and David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Dettlebach presented an overview of the investigation that led to the U.S. Department of Justice report that found that the Cleveland Division of Police had used excessive force in certain situations. The study analyzed more than 600 cases in less than three years and determined four major issues with the use of deadly force, Tasers as a first resort, excessive force against the handicapped or mentally ill and dangerous and poor tactics.

Kennedy discussed his studies of serious violence in troubled communities and explained that the problem between communities and the police goes far beyond race. He said that those on the outside of a neighborhood tend to focus on the incident while those on the inside focus on the history. He concluded by emphasizing the necessity to build strong relationships with the people in a community.

Dunn asked Kennedy how Cleveland police can learn from strategies implemented in other cities and communities he has worked in. Kennedy stressed genuine and uncompromised commitment from the police department, prosecutors and community members.

The second half of the forum allowed members in the approximately 100-person audience to provide their suggestions to the task force and ask questions. An array of individuals spoke their opinions, ranging from community members to activists.

A deaf citizen spoke about equality for the disabled and how the police need to be trained to deal with those with their afflictions.

Alfred Porter Jr., vice president of Black on Black Crime, Inc., suggested that officers should be drug tested after major incidents occur. More than one member of the audience suggested that police policies should be posted online for public review.

Many individuals in the audience wanted the task force to understand that they believe race is a very important factor in excessive police force and encouraged task force members not to ignore this fact.

Cleveland was the first stop for the task force before it begins traveling to different cities across the state. The date for this meeting was announced later than hoped because the selection of task force members took longer than initially expected. Because of the short notice about the event, the possibility of returning to Cleveland at a later date is an option.

The meeting was a disruption to some classes that took place in Room 107 of the Music and Communication building. The Ohio State Highway Patrol used the classroom as a security command post.

James Denny, a professor of communication, had two of his classes moved to other rooms throughout the day. Other than the short notice and tables left in the lecture hall, Denny said it was merely a minor inconvenience.

“The biggest hassle was the two big tables on the stage, so I taught the first section with them in the way,” Denny said. “The worst thing about all of it was a mayonnaise packet left on the floor.”

The task force must issue a report to Kasich by April 30, presenting their findings and suggestions.