Every resident of Cleveland has the right to be safe in their home. Every resident of Cleveland has a right to live in a neighborhood that is safe for themselves and their family. There is nothing more important. Even if we do everything else right, if we can’t guarantee safe neighborhoods for our residents, our city cannot thrive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on many pre-existing issues, including public safety. The rates of some violent crimes have risen in all major American cities, including Cleveland. But that fact only highlights how interconnected health and economic issues are with public safety.
My public safety strategy recognizes the complexity of this issue by being inclusive, innovative, and above-all, community-based.
Neighborhood Safety Centers
As with all my initiatives, my efforts start at a neighborhood level. I believe in a local, community-oriented staffing and deployment strategy. My plan would establish Neighborhood Safety Centers in each of Cleveland’s seventeen wards. These facilities would provide a local, walkable resource for residents with public safety concerns. Community Resource officers based out of these locations would truly engage with residents, participating in bike patrols, foot patrols, and attending neighborhood meetings and festivals. All of this is consistent with encouraging a “guardian” mentality as opposed to a “warrior” culture within the police department.
A rapid and timely response is a crucial component of effective policing. When a resident calls the police, they expect and deserve a timely response. I have heard far too many complaints about slow response times for basic calls for service. Because of staffing levels, too often our Division of Police has had to rely on a worst-first approach – in other words, being so deluged with high priority calls that the quality-of-life complaints are put on the back burner. This is a kind of triage strategy that allows smaller neighborhood issues to sometimes fester and grow into more serious situations. Appropriate staffing levels combined with Neighborhood Public Safety Center-based staffing can help address this problem.
Full staffing of special units
It was revealed in recent years that many key units of CPD have been chronically understaffed. Insufficient staffing of units like Homicide, Sex Crimes, and Domestic Violence is completely unacceptable. When units like these are not staffed appropriately, the solving of crimes are delayed, or they go unsolved entirely. This allows the perpetrators to offend again, creating even more victims, and adding to the cycle of violence and undermining faith in the justice system. We owe it to the victims of crime to fully staff these units so that justice can be swiftly served.
Coordination with Social Services
Cleveland cannot police its way out of crime. For fifteen years, I worked as a social worker in the neighborhoods of Cleveland. I worked with incarcerated individuals in the county jail, and I saw so many people who went down the wrong path and then found themselves trapped in the maze of the criminal justice system. Our public safety strategy must use a collaborative approach with our human services resources. Not every neighborhood dispute requires an armed police officer, and sometimes, a more lasting solution can be found by addressing the underlying human needs that sparked the conflict in the first place. We can’t just look to prosecute or arrest our way out of every situation, and my experience as a councilman, advocate, human services professional, and community volunteer has taught me that a more balanced approach is the right strategy.
I believe in stopping the cycle of violence before it starts. Nothing is more tragic than a young person turning to violence – they are negatively impacting both the victim’s life and their own future. The city can do more to provide hope to young people, especially through our jobs program. Every child in Cleveland needs to know that they have a real, positive future – real job training, a real career, free community college, and a real job, right now.
Complementary Neighborhood Services
Consistent with my neighborhood and holistic approach to safety, part of my plan includes the effective deployment of other city services. A failure to provide comprehensive neighborhood services helps lead to an environment where crime can thrive – vacant lots, abandoned houses, abusive slum landlords, trash in the streets, decaying streets, and sidewalks. The city must do its part to maintain and beautify every street in order to foster pride and respect for each individual neighborhood.
Demilitarization of the Police
The law enforcement profession is meant to be a protective vocation, working collaboratively with the community to build a safe environment for everyone. This “benevolent guardian” mentality is in contrast with a negative trend that has emerged across the country of a “warrior culture”, that treats the community as a war zone and prioritizes military or paramilitary tactics. This approach can unfortunately become self-fulfilling and can spiral out of control. My plan, building on best practices across the country, encourages the “guardian spirit,” beginning during the recruitment and training process, and continuing throughout a police officer’s career.
Racial Justice and Policing
The death of George Floyd and its aftermath served to underscore simmering racial issues that have been a fact of life across America and right here in Cleveland. The consent decree that CPD has been operating under has helped point the way in some respects, but we still have a long way to go. One long term strategy is to recruit a police force that is more reflective of our diverse community. Recruitment strategies must begin earlier – working with our high schools and community colleges to demonstrate that law enforcement can be a way to truly serve and protect the city – and the people – we love.
Addressing the Root Cause of Crime – Poverty
It is not a coincidence that crime spikes when the economy is depressed, as happened just last year. Many people turn to crime out of sheer economic desperation and an absence of hope for the future. Every Cleveland resident must have hope that they can get a family sustaining job. My jobs plan will put thousands of Cleveland residents to work, providing both an economic lifeline and self-respect. This is a hard-working town, and Clevelanders want to work. Providing them with job opportunities makes economic sense and creates safer neighborhoods at the same time.
Decriminalizing non-violent drug offenses
It is perfectly clear to almost everyone that the War on Drugs is a failure. Billions if not trillions of dollars were spent in a fruitless attempt to criminalize recreational drug use, and the laws have been unevenly enforced in a way that disproportionately affect people of color. I support treating low-level, non-violent drug offenses as a non-criminal matter. I also believe in fully funding drug treatment for those battling addiction.
Help for formerly incarcerated individuals
After someone has paid their debt to society and served a sentence in prison, we can’t view them as disposable. They must be re-integrated into society, or else the chances that they will reoffend are greatly increased. My plan includes support for the Governor’s expedited pardon plan. I also propose prioritizing expungement services, and I believe that our jobs programs should offer individuals with a criminal record a second chance. I plan to re-launch the successful Safe Surrender program, in partnership with the faith community. Only by appropriately funding all these kinds of re-entry programs can we hope to break the cycle of recidivism that has disproportionately affected our communities.
Gun Violence as a Public Health Crisis
The number of shootings in Cleveland is alarming and unacceptably high. As Mayor, I would direct the police and City prosecutors to target gun dealers, and I would strongly support state and national efforts to restrict the flow of weapons into our city. I also support the work of the Office of Prevention, Intervention, and Opportunity for Youth and Young Adults. Reaching young people at the neighborhood recreation centers, dealing with toxic stress and interrupting the cycle of violence are keys to our success. These types of violence interrupter programs have been proven to work, and they offer a non-incarceration strategy that should be a part of our public safety toolkit. This balanced approach recognizes both the seriousness of the violence and the underlying causes that lead to its prevalence. President Biden’s recently introduced infrastructure bill includes $5 billion for violence prevention programs, and Cleveland should aggressively pursue our share of these dollars.