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Cleveland mayoral candidates square off in forum on police reform and oversight

Find out where the candidates stand on a proposed charter amendment that would create a civilian police review board.

CLEVELAND — The seven candidates for Cleveland mayor made their pitch to a group calling itself the progressives of the party, making police reform the top issue in the forum on Monday night.

"Public safety is the defining issue of this campaign," said former congressman Dennis Kucinich, as the candidates discussed their views on a proposed charter amendment that would create a civilian police review board, which would give the power to the people for police oversight.

"I'm the son of a cop, right? I get both sides of this equation," said candidate Justin Bibb, an attorney and non-profit executive. "But it's important for the next mayor to be able to share power with the residents." Bibb was the only candidate to enthusiastically support the charter amendment, while other candidates were critical of some aspects of the plan by Citizens for a Safer Cleveland.

"My problem is that it doesn't go far enough," said State Sen. Sandra Williams. "The police union contract actually supersedes the citizens review board, so I think that there's still some more work to do [on the proposal]," she said.

Ross DiBello, an attorney and candidate chimed in, "I think that internal affairs in insufficient to police the police."

The civilian police review board is born from years of community distrust of police, building in 2012 with the shooting of two unarmed people in a hail of 137 police bullets. That was followed by the 2014 shooting death of Tamir Rice by Cleveland police officers.

The board would be made up of five citizens appointed by the mayor, plus four members who are appointed by the city council. The members would serve four-year terms and would have the power to investigate police complaints and oversee police disciplinary actions.

However, some questioned -- Where's the oversight of the oversight board? 

The other candidates supported the intent behind a civilian review board, but were opposed to the language in the charter amendment, which is endorsed by groups including the ACLU and the Cleveland NAACP.

But critics contend that it gives too much power to an un-elected board.

"I know how to get rid of a mayor, but I don't know how to remove the 5-member board [if necessary]," said Kevin Kelley, who said he supports police reform, but does not support the charter amendment. 

"I see why it's created, though," said Councilman Basheer Jones. "Because the people haven't been heard. But the fact of the matter is we have to make sure that we hold everyone accountable."

"Let's get real here," said Dennis Kucinich, who added that "this is all about defunding the police." The former congressman said that he is strongly opposed to a permanent board created by a change in the city's charter that establishes unelected offices.

Former city councilman Zack Reed was the only candidate who did not clearly express support or opposition to the charter amendment, only saying that police would be held accountable under his administration.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The video in the player below is from a previous story.