CLEVELAND — It’s been called a year of reckoning.
Decades of simmering tensions in the Black community boiled over this past summer, reaching its tempest in Minneapolis and the death of George Floyd.
Closer to home, comes a self-examination focusing on the little-known private police forces patrolling our world-renown medical corridor.
A 3News Investigation shows Blacks are more likely than whites to be cited or arrested by these private police forces that work for the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, University Circle Inc. and Case Western Reserve University.
Mica Job was one of the thousands of area residents who found herself stopped by Cleveland Clinic police. Ironically, it happened three years ago as she left her job….at the Cleveland Clinic.
“It was a little shocking,” Job told 3News Investigator Rachel Polansky.
It happened when she made an improper left turn while exiting her car from a parking garage in 2017.
“In my haste coming out of one of the garages…I made a left hand turn where I had seen plenty of people make that left turn numerous times,” she said.
“As I made the left turn, I saw a cop car pull up behind me.”
Soon two more officers joined in the traffic stop.
“Once [the officer] came up to the car, I pulled my [employee} badge out, I explained I didn’t know I couldn’t make a left there,” Job said. “His conversation with me was very curt, and quite aggressive. “Then, there were two other officers who pulled up…and they were laughing as this was going on.”
Looking back, Job doesn’t laugh. She knows what happened to her has happened to others.
She isn’t sure if race prompted the initial traffic stop, but she is confident the conversation changed.
“I think that was a factor in terms of their treatment of me,” she said. “But I will say the treatment of me felt as though it was because of the color of my skin.”
Job is one of thousands of Black residents whose name appears on a long list of people arrested or cited by dozens of private police officers patrolling the Euclid Avenue medical corridor.
But what stands out in this list is the number of Blacks targeted---90 percent in some instances.
“Any time the data shows African-Americans being charged at an excessive rate like this, I do have concerns,” said Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin.
The private police officers are just like any city police officers. They are armed. They have full arrest powers. They are trained and certified in accordance with state laws.
They work in almost anonymous fashion.
But as this fall’s first presidential debate came to Cleveland, the departments garnered national attention when Pro-Publica reported its findings of racial disparities on enforcement.
Cleveland leaders took notice.
“We just want everyone with policing powers to do 21st century policing,” Griffin said. “To do bias-free policing. To not have [statistics] that you just read to me.”
The statistics come from a data base of court records 3News Investigates acquired through a public records request of the Cleveland Municipal Court.
The records highlight cases brought by these private police officers since 2015.
We found nearly 9,000 traffic and criminal cases brought by the private police officers. Records show nearly 75 percent of those charged were Black.
“It’s systemic racism, systemic exclusion and I would even say systemic blind eye that has become the norm and that’s where it all,” Job said.
In response to the reports, the hospitals and community group gave varied responses.
The Clinic denied any bias policing and took exception to the conclusions drawn by the Pro-Publica report saying it “was not an accurate presentation” of its officers.
A spokeswoman said their records show Blacks and white have been stopped at nearly the same rate in nearly 2,100 stops in 2019.
The Clinic also pointed out that its main campus is located in neighborhoods that are predominately Black.
You can read the Clinic's statement below:
A UH spokeswoman says the hospital has a new social justice equity team and a civilian review board in place to ensure bias-free policing.
Since 2018, UH say their 29 officers issued just 260 citations, or about three per officer.
You can read UH's statement below:
University Circle Inc. responded with direct action. President Chris Ronayne, in an interview with Pro-Publica, said that the disparate cases---over 90 percent Black by its 21 officers – required immediate change saying quote.
“We can’t sit on things. We have to act,” he told the publication.
The non-profit group has now hired noted Cleveland State urban studies professor Dr. Ronnie Dunn to conduct an internal study.
Ronayne initially agreed to speak with 3News about the response. The interview was later canceled.
The agency instead released a statement reading:
"Unbiased treatment and equitable enforcement are core values of community policing. University Circle Police are reviewing department policies and procedures and officers are currently completing training with Cuyahoga Community College and beginning training with Cleveland State University that reaffirms the department’s commitment to law enforcement best practices and just outcomes for the community."
Danielle Sydnor, president of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP, said the numbers are troubling, and she hopes they inspire a community discussion on changes that are needed.
“I think the thing that was most alarming to me was just the vast disparity,” she said.
“I think we’re in this space enough, we understand a lot of these things that the average everyday person doesn’t realize is still happening, is happening, and so when seeing the data bear out, it was just disheartening that is was so staggering.”
More from Rachel Polansky and Phil Trexler:
Editor's Note: The below story aired on December 10, 2020