Summary: The Cleveland Police need a liaison to work with homeless people and should not wear their city issued uniform/badge when off duty and acting as private security officers.
Background: The Cleveland police chase in 2012 that started the second Justice Department investigation into CPD practices and procedures involved two homeless people driving the car. The two unarmed homeless people were killed in a school yard in East Cleveland after a large number of cars were involved in a high speed chase. Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were killed by over 130 bullets fired at their car resulting in the Justice Dept. report issued in 2014. Many supervisors and officers were disciplined and six Police Department staff were charged with a crime. Command staff attended a Homeless Congress meeting to discuss the incident and to ask for calm while the investigation moved forward. Homeless Congress members regularly discussed the issue of police interactions with the population and were interviewed by the Justice Department legal team.
What is the Homeless Congress? Representatives of the shelters and people who live outside meet once a month to work to improve conditions for homeless people. They meet with local elected officials and work on public policy issues that have an effect on homeless people. They work with government and shelter staff to improve access to homeless services.
Specific Issues: Members who attended the December 12, 2014 Homeless Congress meeting unanimously supported the following proposals. Homeless people in Cleveland are asking that any agreement with the Cleveland Police Department and the US Justice Department should contain the following points to prevent future problems between law enforcement and homeless people.
- Police should not wear the Cleveland uniform when working private security
Homeless Congress members voiced concerns regarding off-duty officers wearing Cleveland police uniforms when working security at homeless shelters and drop in centers. This confuses and blurs the line between law enforcement and securing a building or private company. The citizen is often not sure if the uniformed officer is enforcing City law or are they enforcing shelter policies? Shelter residents were concerned that regular verbal altercations can be escalated into a criminal charge of disorderly conduct when a uniformed officer becomes involved. We have numerous examples of Police officers threatening arrest for violating shelter rules, which does not seem to be the job of an employee of the City. Shelter residents proposed that off-duty officers working security at shelters wear the uniform of a private security company that employs them and not the badge and uniform of the City of Cleveland.
2. Need for a Liaison at Each Police District to Work with Homeless People and Domestic Violence victims/as well as the agencies which serve them. `
Homeless Congress members also proposed that each police district have liaisons who would work with the homeless and homeless agencies. It was suggested that these liaisons have training about homelessness, which would include a short-term stay in a shelter in order to learn more about homelessness. It was also proposed that the officer receive training from the agencies serving homeless and domestic violence victims. We believe that this will provide a better understanding of the problems homeless people face and Police officers will make a more educated decision of how to respond to calls involving people who are without a place to live.
We have communicated the opinion of the Homeless Congress to the US Justice Department, and hope to communicate them to the Cleveland City Council members.
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