Op-Ed: Dear Justin Bibb, Cleveland Needs a New Public Safety Director

Karrie Howard - CITY OF CLEVELAND
City of Cleveland
Karrie Howard

Dear Justin Bibb,

It is an exciting time to be a Clevelander since you were overwhelmingly chosen as the mayor-elect by voters. As people who have been at the front line of advocacy for change, we are hopeful as we watch the city’s grassroots activists coalesce around you. Your recent advertisement for recruiting talent nationwide to key cabinet positions instead of automatically rewarding loyal patrons is refreshing. We did however notice that one of the most vital positions, director of public safety, was not posted. This is the subject of our appeal to you. The safety directors position must also be opened up to fresh, qualified leadership.

Despite rumors about how and why he was appointed, Cleveland was excited about Karrie Howard, another leader who promised change. He made bold promises for change and people were cautiously excited about what the future might bring. His actions and behaviors since that time, however, have betrayed his promises to the public. For many like us who have watched Karrie closely, it is evident he does not fit into your vision for a transparent and just city hall that is responsive to citizens' needs. There are rumors that he may be retained in the new administration. He cannot be.

Yes, Karrie has grabbed headlines for firing police officers, but that should not be the metric that defines his performance. After all, it's his job to do so when warranted. His increased discipline of officers is a direct result of the Monitoring Team's scathing report about the leniency of his predecessor, Mike McGrath. It is not bold or courageous to do what policy has always required a person in that position to do.

In the meantime, Karrie has burned many bridges with community activists and organizations, particularly when it comes to his campaign of open opposition to Issue 24. He has also openly resisted sharing documents with the current police commission and the public related to high profile incidents such as the Arthur Keith and Tamia Chappman homicide investigations. Under Karrie's leadership there has been almost no criminal accountability for officers who were fired for serious civil rights violations or for police commanders who, according to civil court records, are engaging in behavior that is disparate to the city’s code of conduct. Out of 232 possible cases in 2020, Karrie was only able to get 16 accepted by prosecutors. This is less than 10%. Speaking of dismal percentages, the homicide and sex crime solve rates under his leadership as executive head of the Cleveland Division of police are just as dismal.

Mayor-elect Bibb, your vision for safety in our neighborhoods, transparency and integrity in City Hall, and accountability in policing cannot be achieved unless you wipe the slate clean regarding public safety leadership. Selecting a new safety director who can build trust in the community and bring true innovative and courageous ideas to the office is the best way to move forward.
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