Cleveland Police Commit To Improving Sexual Assault Response
Officially, the Special Commission on Missing Persons and Sex Crimes Investigations was charged with examining police policies and recommending changes. But, a more fundamental goal was to answer questions posed by people like Steve Hunter.
STEVE HUNTER: Why did they send a letter to my house in February 2010 asking me if my sister, Amelda Hunter, is still missing?
Amelda Hunter went missing about a year ago, but she was eventually found. Her body was one of 11 discovered buried in and around the house of Anthony Sowell, last November. The form letter that Steve Hunter got is one example of the ways that police-community relations have been strained over the years. For the past three months, the commission members heard a number of similar stories. They heard families complain that the police didn't respond to missing persons reports. Others claimed that the process of filing a police report was intimidating. Commission member Mary Bounds says they also got the police point-of-view.
BOUNDS: We did interviews... did ride-alongs...we went in dispatch...we went all through the Justice Center.
And they examined the police practices of 16 other cities. This investigation resulted in a 933-page study with 26 recommendations on how the city can improve it's response to sex crimes and missing persons reports. Among those recommendations --- a beefed-up missing persons unit... improving the empathy of officers when taking reports from victims...and implementing a community education campaign about the importance of reporting rapes and domestic abuse. City officials say they will adopt all 26 recommendations. Despite recent budget cuts, Police Chief Michael McGrath says he can pull it off.
McGRATH: In fact, the division of police does have the infrastructure --- within and with our law enforcement partners --- to move forward with the commission's recommendations.
Those law enforcement partners include the county Sheriff’s office and police agencies in neighboring cities, which the commission report suggests need to do better at sharing information. The report also recommends renegotiating an agreement with the Police Union that requires one half of vacancies in the Sex Crimes Unit be filled based on seniority. The commission argues that skills or special experience are better qualifications.
Commission member Megan O'Brien says Mayor Frank Jackson has pledged to make a number of policy changes based on the report.
MEGAN O'BRIEN: The mayor has expressed his commitment to adopting and implementing all of these recommendations, which I was personally very happy about.
An oversight committee is due to be named shortly to monitor the city’s progress in making the suggested changes. But, perhaps the most difficult change to make will be in the confidence of community members who have seen police investigations come and go. Steve Hunter is skeptical.
STEVE HUNTER: That don't mean they're going to follow it, just because they made a recommendation. They haven't done anything all these, years... all these years.
The ball's in the City's court to prove that it means business.