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

Page 5 of 5

Spreading misinformation to the public is just one problem, however. Safety Director Martin Flask (who has been mighty quiet lately) is at fault, too, in poor communication with Mayor Frank Jackson's office. Why would the office be told not enough pilots were on staff to maintain full use of the department's helicopters when that's not the case, when it's a simple matter of "expensive" fuel?

Or how Jackson can say the cops have everything they need when not all cars have dashcams or computers, and police are communicating over a hand-me-down radio system purchased from another city when it had already been deemed out-of-date.

Sure, they've got everything they need.

Fingers, Fingers Everywhere

Now: The city is faced with a police leadership and a police rank-and-file playing the blame game. They've gone to such preposterous lengths as to question whether anything bad happened at all. Chief McGrath, weathered and sleepy, claims that there are no systemic flaws and good policies are in place; meanwhile, the union paints every last one of its employees without blemish and sees profit in noting that this whole circus could have been avoided if the criminals weren't criminals.

What's most bewildering is the totality with which both sides absolve themselves at the expense of the other.

By their own admission, Cleveland police field preparation is poor even compared to other departments in the state. The hidden issue, though, is not a lack of training – which there clearly is, or at least a lack of the right kind. The issue is officers' impulse to value field training over and above paperwork. It reinforces one of their favorite themes – a premium on action over policy.

"We've got to get out of the classroom," Jeff Folmer has stated more than once.

Brian Betley argued that officers really shouldn't be expected to remember specific procedures while they're out in the field. Out there, he said, they don't have the same luxury to think and process choices like they would on a multiple-choice exam.

Beg pardon, Mr. Betley?

We ought not get into what Betley's assertion presupposes as it relates to the operation of the police force writ large. But as it relates to the events of November 29, here's a dramatic takeaway: More troubling than the fact that officers didn't care about the policies and procedures they were breaking is the suspicion that they didn't know them in the first place.

Or maybe they know more than they let on. In which case, the union should spring for a public relations consultant. Officers might have gained important ground in the public eye had they, first off, cited their policies correctly – it's "exigent" circumstances which permit additional vehicles, not "unusual" – and then had reasonably outlined the ways in which outdated or frankly bad policies have precluded effective policing.

Instead, officers have backed themselves into a corner and continue pointing fingers. They're writing grammatically impoverished press releases. They're responding to name-callers in kind and are shocked that the public continues to suspect their actions. Instead of denying the fact that they've become a lethargic, insular force, why not admit it and explain why? Otherwise, some of the public will continue to perceive that they are morons.

What Now?

Amid (and because of) the turmoil, the ball has fallen on Mayor Frank Jackson's court, where it tends to listlessly roll.

Next on his docket is this administrative audit that will be used to determine the scope and severity of punishments. But an audit will not improve city safety. Here's what it'll be: a conflicted, protracted mess. It will result in bureaucratic fatigue and zero consequential outcomes. Likely, the department will tout a few meaningless suspensions (and a token termination?) But the audit's principal effect will be the continued anxiety and frustration of the force.

Jackson needs to calm the storm and right the ship. He needs to gather input from key players and construct new, up-to-date protocol for emergency situations. It should include mandatory field training and periodic drills. That new protocol must be consistent with national standards – California's a good place to start. All policies must be publicized and then strictly enforced, immediately.

Jackson must assemble a team to address the technical needs of the department as soon as possible so that issues with the radios and the stop strips won't happen again. If the issues can't be reasonably parsed, new protocol for equipment acquisition and operations must be constructed as above (i.e. With input from key players, publicity, enforcement, etc.)

Jackson must work with personnel and with national help, if necessary, to create training modules for active (particularly veteran) cops to ensure that all members of the force are knowledgeable on best practices and staying current on changes in policy.

Jackson must send an audit team to the police academy to assess whether or not Cleveland's training methods stack up to national metrics. The team must leave no stone unturned, and generate a report with actionable strategies for improvement based on successful models.

These things need to happen now. Promptly and unequivocally, Jackson must step in and address the issues. And he's got to approach these changes with the right attitude – they must be viewed as necessary improvements, not punishments. The department gets nowhere if everyone continues to profess their innocence while looking for someone else to blame.

They all messed up. Jackson's job is making sure it doesn't happen again.

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...
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.