Cleveland's Police's Telling Response to Tamir Rice and the DOJ Report

So this is the statement Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued in response to a scathing Department of Justice report finding the department is “reckless,” “poorly trained” and “frequently deprives people of their constitutional rights.” I’ll spare you the gory details of this report, if you want more info check this out, but in a nutshell the two-year investigation found that officers, among other things, have been pistol whipping suspects and firing guns in a manner that threatens innocent bystanders.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams

In light of all, Chief Williams prerogative is to remind the pubic that “the majority of” their “officers do great police work.” I want to say, for the record, I have absolutely no doubt that that is true. It is also, entirely beside the point.

Let’s say Calvin Williams was the owner of a restaurant. Let’s say a bunch of people ate food from this restaurant and got very sick and that the health department came and wrote a report and found there were “systemic” problems with the restaurant’s policies and employees that led to the problem. Let’s say the report also uncovered other problems — labor violations, vermin in the kitchen, etc. What if restaurant owner Calvin Williams response was, “I want to remind everyone that we served a lot of meals that didn’t make people sick.” Of course that would be true, but when you’re in a position of authority, you don’t get to be congratulated for things working as they should — especially in light of shocking evidence that in some important instances they are not.

This should really be obvious to anyone in a management role, but a few bad apples can spoil the bunch. If a few Cleveland Police Officers are out there pistol whipping people in the face like they think they are Scarface or something, that is naturally going to overshadow the good work being done by the majority. That’s why it’s Chief Williams’ job to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen. And he completely and utterly failed at it. Now he is not accepting responsibility the way a real leader should.

This kind of response from all throughout the ranks of Cleveland leadership is almost more disturbing to me than the findings in DOJ report itself, and definitely helps explain how things could have gotten so out of hand.

Additionally, this insistence from police that because their job is risky and difficult, unprofessional, unethical and dangerous conduct should be excused is just not logically defensible. Because police are entrusted with a great deal of authority and latitude, they are under even more obligation than other kinds of workers to behave ethically and professionally at all times.

When you are in charge of an organization that screws up this badly, and the evidence of the screw up is so completely devastating, there is really only one acceptable way to respond: Chief Williams should apologize to the people of Cleveland and admit that he and other leaders have failed in their primary duty of ensuring quality throughout the department’s ranks.

Among those of us who are outraged by what has been uncovered, I think there are very few of us that doubt there are upstanding and hardworking officers throughout the ranks of the Cleveland Police. It’s unfortunate, but it’s axiomatic to employees within any organization, that their reputation is tarnished when others among their ranks behave unprofessionally and unethically.

It’s men like Chief Williams and other superior officers that have let the hardworking and trustworthy officers within CPD’s ranks down, by permitting disgraceful behavior by other officers wearing the same badge. The responsibility for the department’s tarnished image belongs with them, not misperceptions of the public or the media.

–Angie Schmitt


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