Fault on All Fronts

After months of finger pointing over the November police chase and shooting, it's time for all parties to accept the blame

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Hands Tied, Stand Down

Officers acknowledge that there were policy infractions regarding permission to join the pursuit, but they say that that particular policy has often just been a formality. It's not so much asking as it is announcing. And during an emergency situation, when all cars switch to the same radio channel, they don't want to clog the airways with repeated announcements when key developments could be circulating about the suspects.

Cops say the books were cooked regarding the numbers, and in truth, the BCI report can be misleading. Of the 62 vehicles it mentions, 12 weren't even Cleveland police cruisers and seven weren'tdirectly involved in the chase. They were waiting at the edge of a bordering district in the event the cars came south.

But cops have been hammered by the ACLU and citizen activists more for the use of deadly force. They claim the shooting in the Heritage Lot was unwarranted, that it resembled "an execution," that it was racially motivated.

Officers dismiss those accusations. One thing they can't dismiss, though, is their proclivity to aggressively pursue suspects when one of their own has been victimized. That's the unwritten code Naymik hypothesized.

Officers attest that when it comes to safety, there's no difference between a police officer, the Mayor, or a homeless person on the street. But the high-profile pursuits have only occurred when an officer's safety was in question.

And there's a reason why:

Follmer has said that morale in the department is at an all-time low. A lot of that has to do with McGrath, who has long since lost the support of the rank and file. Some of that also has to do with the culture of the force as a whole, which many officers feel discourages pro-active policing. They feel so handcuffed by potential policy violations and outcries from vocal citizens that lazy policework has become incentivized.

"We get paid the same for driving around and making a few traffic stops as we do for going out there and getting heads," said one frustrated patrolman. "What's the point when we're just going to get reprimanded? It's damned if you do, damned if you don't."

Most chases are immediately called off before they even get underway for a variety of reasons. Career criminals predisposed to flee from the cops know they'll only be pursued for a matter of minutes. And if the pursuit is over a traffic charge or another lowly misdemeanor, cops will almost always pull back.

Lack of Oversight, Lack of Communication, Lack of Everything

Detached. Absent. Unaware. Disconnected. Head in the sand.

Those are ways Cleveland cops describe Chief McGrath. He has little idea what happens on the streets, little idea what his officers are equipped with, they contend.

Safety Director Martin Flask is just as bad, they say.

That's why officials can stand up in public and talk about stop strips when in reality, the department only has just over a dozen in its possession, all purchased over a decade ago, most of which are damaged and in need of repair. The rest are stored away in basements or in the trunks of supervisors' cars.

In an urban setting, stop strips are impractical anyway, what with sidewalks and side streets making for easy avoidance.

"Giving us 12 spike strips is like giving me two bullets in a fire fight," said one officer. Or why they can stand up and proclaim no knowledge of training that had cops shooting through their windshields in November when Cleveland officers had been training for just such close-range situations in a Crown Vic at the department. (With few exceptions, patrolmen don't get adequate training, they say. If you want extra training, it's on your dime and your time, unless you're in the narcotics unit, which seems to get all the money and time in the world.)

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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