CLEVELAND — With election day upon us, Cleveland voters will pick the city’s first new mayor in 16 years. They will also decide the fate of Issue 24, a proposed amendment that would dramatically change how the city’s police department operates.
As part of 3News’ Leading the Land series on the mayor’s race, we recap what Issue 24 means for residents and why it’s become the key dividing line between candidates Kevin Kelley and Justin Bibb.
Issue 24 would put the final decision on police policies and the discipline of officers in the hands of a civilian-led board and commission.
The commission members would be appointed by the mayor and and city council but ultimately approved by council. And the amendment specifies that members represent wide interests of the city, including representatives from civil rights organizations, local police organizations and at least one member who has been a victim – or has a family member who has been a victim – of police violence.
Backers, including mayoral candidate Justin Bibb, say the amendment creates a needed layer of oversight. He’s also said he represents shared democracy with residents.
Attorney Subodh Chandra, a former city law director, is the principal author of Issue 24. Speaking at a recent City Club of Cleveland forum on Issue 24, he said the amendment is about accountability.
“It is about ensuring that civilian values prevail,” he said. “That civilians have the opportunity to manage the division of police and ensure officers are held accountable.”
He and others say the amendment is justified by the city’s history of police shootings and excessive use of force, which led to a U.S. Justice Department review and 2015 deal – known as the consent decree -- with the city to reform the Cleveland police department.
Those against Issue 24, including mayoral candidate and City Council President Kevin Kelley, say the amendment ignores progress the city is making under its deal with the U.S. Justice Department.
They point to City Hall’s recent firings and suspensions of police officers for bad conduct. On Tuesday, Cleveland City Hall offered 3News the following statistics related to the discipline of Cleveland police officers since June 2020: 34 suspensions;14 terminations; 1 demotion; 6 resignations (prompted by threat of discipline or triggered by absenteeism). In most cases, the union representing police officers is challenging the decisions. Doing so will put the decision of state arbitrators.
The proposed amendment would also direct a small portion of the police budget to the board and commission it creates, which opponents says amounts to defunding the police. The city says the money – which could amount to more than $2 million ($1 million plus .5 percent of the police budget) could be spent outside the normal oversight of Cleveland City Council.
But the biggest divide remains over whether passage of Issue 24 will trigger a wave of retirements and resignations by officers worried civilians without the experience and training will second guess them.
“There is the hard red line of what police should not do. Period. End of story,” Johnny Hamm, a police captain and Cleveland resident, said during the City Club forum. “There are also a lot of gray areas situational based. When an officer can do this or can do that and sometimes a civilian doesn’t understand how those play out.”
Chandra says the notion of mass exodus is a just a scare tactic.
“If there is any individual officer that would literally resign or retire because we have greater accountability in Cleveland, you are exactly the officer we don’t want or need – good riddance,” he said. “And let’s bring in the next generation of police officers who are committed to constitutional policing and strong community policing.”
Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry said officers’ concerns have merit.
“I think there is a dimension of human nature where if you feel like you are going to be embarrassed publicly and you are going to shamed even if you are just doing your job – and someone else perceives this as wrong – I think that stress is real,” she said during the forum.” A lot of people might say I don’t’ want to work under that stress. That doesn’t mean those folks wouldn’t be good police officers. That doesn’t mean those folks are out to commit civil rights violations.”
Watch Mark Naymik host a City Club of Cleveland panel discussion on Issue 24 below:
Previous reporting on Cleveland mayoral race:
- Kevin Kelley’s bid for mayor of Cleveland tied to his resume as council president
- Cleveland mayoral candidate Justin Bibb's resume full of big job titles and frequent job changes
- Mayoral candidates Kevin Kelley and Justin Bibb square off in debate at Cleveland African-American Museum
- Justin Bibb vs. Kevin Kelley: How the mayoral candidates grade the Cleveland Division of Police