Commentary

12.15.14

The Cost of Unconstitutional and Ineffective Policing

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The cost of poor policing is difficult to quantify. Some costs can be measured in dollars, but other costs—loss of trust, life, or missed opportunities—are too great to measure.

Loss of Public Dollars

A recent investigative report found that Cleveland taxpayers have paid a minimum of $10.5 million between 2004 and 2014 related to police misconduct settlements.

But the truth is that Cleveland’s unfair and unjust policing practices have cost people much more. Why is that?

In sheer dollar amounts, $10.5 million does not include the cost of litigating cases, meaning the thousands of hours the city law department devotes to staffing, researching, or responding to complaints filed against the city.

Nor does is it include the $13.2 million that will be awarded to David Ayers who spent 11 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit because two Cleveland detectives either fabricated or withheld evidence.

Loss of Community Trust

In only a decade, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched two investigations into Cleveland’s police department for its use of force twice, a rare occurrence as noted by U.S. Attorney, Steve Dettlebach at a hearing before city council. If Cleveland’s police department is this broken, how can the public trust that they will be safe and respected?

Read our blog, Vindication: DOJ Report on Cleveland Policing. Read our blog, The Ferguson Near You.

This most recent DOJ report determined that: “CPD’s failure to ensure that its officers do not use excessive force, or are held accountable if they do, interferes with its ability to gain the trust of and work with the communities whose cooperation the Division most needs to enforce the law, ensure officer safety, and prevent crime.”  Cleveland’s inability to hold officers accountable impedes their ability to build trust and do their job.

Loss of Life

Brandon McCloud, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, Tanisha Anderson, and Tamir Rice all lost their lives at the hands of Cleveland police. For their families, birthdays and holidays will always be marked with the notable absence of their loved one. For people like David Ayers who can never recover years lost in prison due to a wrongful conviction, life will never be as it was.

For the countless others who had their constitutional rights violated and/or were unjustly criminalized, their belief in fairness may never be restored. For the children who have witnessed police abuse, like the 16-year-old daughter of Tanisha Anderson who watched her mother be slammed to the pavement by police, they will be left with a tragic scene that will constantly replay in their minds for the rest of their days. All lives matter, which is why thoughtful police interaction is crucial. One mistake can impact a family and a community for generations.

Missed Opportunities

There are millions of ways that Cleveland could have spent $10.5 million dollars in the last decade to improve the quality of life for city residents, but let’s focus on policing.

As recommend by DOJ, Cleveland’s Police Department needs to provide officers with some of the  following:

  • A systemic community policing plan.
  • To broaden its crisis intervention training.
  • To create an effective staffing plan.
  • To update, replace, and provide working communication equipment, computers, and vehicles.

Although the city of Cleveland has paid out large sums of taxpayer dollars in settlements due to poor policing, it has also neglected to train, equip and hold officers accountable. These factors have contributed to a costly spending cycle, at least one decade of missed opportunities, and a culture that undermines Cleveland’s ability to ensure a constitutionally effective police department. While some of the harms created by Cleveland’s poor policing practices cannot be undone, the future may be a little more promising.

The DOJ investigation, report, and pending agreement with the city of Cleveland present endless opportunities of restoration. In order to move forward all members of the community must be on board with creating and sustaining a constitutionally effective police culture that benefits all Clevelanders.

 

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