May 9, 2017

Central Promise Neighborhood hosts ‘reverse ride along’ for new Cleveland Police recruits

The Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood and Jan Thrope, community activist and founder of Inner Visions of Cleveland, hosted a "reverse ride along" for 49 new Cleveland Police recruits in April. The program is a re-imagining of the traditional police ride along as it reverses roles and lets the community design the tour and highlight people, places and resources they would like to introduce to Cleveland's newest police officers.

"I was able to see the officers in a different light and I sincerely believe that we all have the same goals," said Joe Black, engagement manager, Promise Neighborhood. "We didn't just provide a tour to recruits who are foreign to the city, we provided a tour to senior officers who have found themselves stuck in a building. In fact, I would argue that the tour was as important to the senior officers as it was to the recruits."

The "reverse ride along" was featured on the front-page of The Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com. Below is the complete text from the article. 

Cleveland Police recruits on 'reverse ride-along' meet the people they'll serve and protect 

A community worth protecting: Meeting residents

On Wednesday, the 49 police recruits set to graduate this week from Cleveland’s 136th police academy went on a  “reverse ride-along” program designed to take them into the heart of city's neighborhoods to meet the people they will soon serve.

Much is expected of the recruits who will put on their uniforms, pin on their badges and strap on their holsters at a time when police and community relations are at a crossroads.

The men and women – most of them in their 20s – will be deployed to the city’s streets as the face of a department that the U.S. Department of Justice just a few years ago almost sued for using excessive force against citizens, violating constitutional rights, and being unable to adequately police its own.

Now, with a consent decree in place, the department is working to build community trust as it also works to change the policies and practices that lead to the federal government involvement.

All these recruits know, though, is the future.

Cleveland police Sgt. Shawn Smith, who leads the training academy, has been working for a few years with officer George Kwan to find new ways to introduce recruits to residents.

Meanwhile, Jan Thrope, a community activist and founder of Inner Visions of Cleveland, wanted to start a “reverse ride-along” program for the Cleveland recruits similar to one she and Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood engagement managers helped the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority create last year.

The timing was perfect.

When the city moved the bulk of its recruit training to the Ohio State Highway Patrol Training Academy in Columbus last year, it became even more vital to make it happen, Smith said.

“Most of this class isn’t from the city,” Smith said. “They mainly know it from attending sporting events or going downtown.”

Seventy-seven percent of the class is from outside the city of Cleveland, mainly from the suburbs, although some are from as far away as Jamaica or Colombia.

For many of the 49 recruits, the 9-hour excursion provided a first glimpse at Hough, Collinwood, Clark-Fulton, Ohio City and Central – neighborhoods they will soon patrol. 

For residents in those same places it was a chance to show the recruits that the people who live there are worth protecting.

A new neighborhood for some, home for others: Fatima Family Center

At the Fatima Family Center, the recruits circled around tables to meet long-time Hough residents, in what amounted to the community engagement version of speed dating.

For most of the recruits, it was their first time hearing about the Hough neighborhood, beyond the riots sparked there more than 50 years ago by racial and police tensions.

Three of the recruits, though, were raised in Hough.

Malcolm Sutton-Nicholson still lives there and attends St. Agnes-Our Lady of Fatima Church. The 26-year-old rose to hug Pastor Bob Marva, who welcomed the recruits, telling them, “I look forward to encountering you in serious and in fun times.”

Nine-year resident Viola Super told recruits at her table about the new house she built in Hough, with a view of the the restored League Park on Lexington Avenue.

“What made you choose this neighborhood,” a recruit asked Super.

“The prospect of it growing,” she said, telling them about an old-time soda fountain and ice cream shop being planned.

Shelli Brooks shared with the recruits how her grandfather was able to buy a home in Hough in the 1950s because he was bi-racial and looked white. And how her family stayed as the neighborhood changed. Brooks worked for the city’s recreation department for 31 years, “Raising nice young men like you,” she said patting one recruit on the back.

Before departing, the recruits were treated to a hip-hop performance by Refresh Collective, which works with kids in schools and neighborhoods to make music.

“There’s a lot of division between youth and police,” teen Patrick Warner said. “We all need to come together. 

Each recruit received a copy of their recent “Drop the Lead” CD with tracks exploring lead poisoning, gun violence and police relations, and a shirt imprinted with the message in one of the songs: We’re all on the same side.

Growing relationships in Hough: City Rising Farm

Before 10 a.m., almost a dozen recruits filed out of a white passenger van, spilling onto a lot in the city’s Hough neighborhood, where clusters of raised garden beds with overwintered herbs were just starting to perk up.

There, Elle Adams greeted them with the story of how City Rising Farm, an urban gardening and education program she directs, rose from where burned out and vacant houses once stood on Blaine Avenue.

In 2008, the weeds reached her shoulders and hid animals, both dead and alive. Now, neighbors share a monthly meal cooked in the wood-fired pizza oven they constructed from stones, clay and straw.

“What do you think is our greatest crop,” Adams, in the photo above, asked the recruits, as they stood in a semi-circle with Joe Black, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood resident engagement manager.

Tomatoes? Cucumbers? Greens? they guessed.

“Our greatest crop here is the people,” Adams said. “That’s what we cultivate.”

Adams asked the recruits to take the time to listen to the residents – even the drunks and drug boys. To try and understand how transiency and a host of other factors have left the neighborhoods they will patrol challenged – but not too blighted to plant the seeds of change.

“We’re all people,” she said. “It helps when we can take the time to meet people where they are at.”

Put your attitude in your pockets

Recruits also heard from Loretta Williams, a Hough resident and retired Cleveland police officer, (She also happens to be the wife of their new boss Chief Calvin Williams.)

Williams recalled as a young officer being told to wave if residents tried to talk to her as she patrolled.

“It’s hard to do anything from a zone car,” said Williams, above with officer George Kwan and her year-old granddaughter Siya. “People can’t get to know you if you don’t let that window down.”

She told them to represent themselves, and if they have an attitude, to "put it in their pockets."

“When you start this job an a------, you end up an a------,” she said, before telling them to pray for each other, and that they'd get into some messes but God would keep them safe.

As the recruits headed back to the van, Adams opened a bag filled with packets of seeds, for them to plant. Some selected tomatoes, beets or greens.

“Is this the same as regular okra,” Thomas Pavlik, of Rocky River asked, holding up a packet of red okra. He told Adams he liked it pickled.

“It’s got the most beautiful flowers you’ve seen,” Adams said. “You’ll love growing it.”

Schooled on the 13th Amendment in Glenville: Khnemu Foundation Lighthouse Center

Recruits settled in a circle, the smell of incense in the air at Khnemu Lighthouse Foundation, the storefront community center Fred Ward opened 4½ years ago on E. 105th Avenue in the Glenville neighborhood.

Ward shared his journey to shake the stain of decades-old felony convictions so he could help the next generation take a different path. 

“Any of you familiar with the 13th Amendment,” Ward asked the recruits, who looked at each other sheepishly. “Any of you not familiar with the 13th Amendment, raise your hands.”

Most of the hands went up.

“Slavery was never abolished, it was reframed,” Ward told them, describing the lifelong restrictions on freedom that come after a conviction.

“It was harder to do right than to do wrong,” he said, speaking of the hurdles in getting support and funding for Khnemu because of his past. Now, he said, the center educates residents how to understand the power structure so they can take responsibility, instead of shifting responsibility.

Ward starts that process with an organizational chart of the City of Cleveland.

“Do you know what’s at the top,” he asked. Not the mayor. Not the council. The citizens of Cleveland.

“People have bought into the narrative that they are powerless,” he said. “We’re teaching them to build power from the ground up.”

To do that, residents need to overcome trauma they feel from past police mistreatment, just as the officers have a U.S. Department of Justice consent decree to contend with.

“It might not be fair but it’s real,” he said. “I don’t want to prejudge you but remember, people often make assumptions based on insufficient evidence.”

Sgt. Shawn Smith shared how he learned as a young officer, who also had grown up in the city, to treat people as people. “You don’t have to dog people,” he said. “I used to tell people that I’m just a taxi ride to see the judge.”

Citizens need to know that officers will be tough, but fair, with those committing crimes.

“We need some new blood,” Ward said. “The question is, are you all going to be progressive or are you just going to fall in line.

A parking lot conversation: Cuddell Recreation Center

After a lunch of breaded chicken, rigatoni, salad and cookies provided by Third Federal Foundation in Slavic Village, where the recruits heard about the challenges of working to boost the literacy rate, health and family stability of children in the community, the vans split off to different corners of the city. One headed to Collinwood’s Waterloo Arts district and another headed west.

That van made a brief stop in the parking lot of Cudell Recreation Center, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a Cleveland officer in 2014.

Smith later shared that they discussed why making the stop was necessary. And why they didn’t get out of the van and go inside the center. 

“It’s still a little raw,” Smith told them. “The community might be upset but we still have to serve this community and build back that relationship.”

What does it mean to serve?: St. John's Episcopal Church in Ohio City

At St. John’s Episcopal, recruits lined the pews of the oldest church building in Cuyahoga County, one with a past connected to the Underground Railroad and a present mission of serving those often cast aside in society.

Vicker Kelly Aughenbaugh asked: “What does it mean to serve your community, to serve our community?

To some it was providing for people in need or helping children in the community grow up safe.

“I came as a stranger to Cleveland from a town of 4,000,” said Jared Germaine, who moved from the Eastern Michigan town of Birch Run after being accepted into his academy class. “People looked out for me and I want to make sure I look out for them.”

Leaders of church and community organizations in Ohio City shared with the recruits what it looks like on their front lines, serving men who are homeless, addicted to drugs or who live with mental illness.

“I try to start by getting to know them, getting beyond those things,” said Carl Cook, who helped found or coordinate multiple initiatives, including the Metanoia Project, which provides food clothing and shelter to homeless men and women.

Cook, who was homeless and incarcerated after he struggled with alcohol addiction, said the most important thing was to remember. “We are all cut from the same cloth.”

Cook and St. Paul’s Community Church Pastor Doug Horner told the recruits about options for the homeless and mentally ill they may encounter – other than taking them to jail.

Officers, he said, are rarely called to St. Paul’s he said, because they have created a safe space. But he encouraged them to drop in the church anyway, to see the programs that help get people ready for jobs or into more stable housing.

“Come inside, you’ll have a lot of allies,” he said.

Brick by brick, building the Union-Miles neighborhood: Killingsworth Meeting Place

In a shopping plaza on East 131th Street, members of the Union-Miles neighborhood gathered with recruits to create paper “bricks” as a representation of the neighborhood they’d like to build.

Joyce Fields, who lives on nearby East 108th Street, told the recruits about the four empty houses next to hers, and her fear that a predator might live inside one. “I work second shift, so I’m coming in late. I won’t even park in the backyard because it is so dark here. One house away from me is open. I’ve tried to close this door four times with the assistance of my sister, so if somebody is up in there they don’t grab me. And all the times the door is re-opened and left open and now I’m fearful of where I live.”

But that doesn’t negate the good, the community block parties, the beautiful gardens they plant, she said.

“It seems like there’s a lot of rich history in this neighborhood,” Dennis Meehan, a recruit from Parma told Fields.

“It’s here,” Fields nodded. “It’s hidden.”

Fields asked the recruits how they would go about relating to kids who are afraid of the police.

Carlee Seroka, of West Park, said she was going to get out of her car.

“I’m dying to start so I can meet people,” she said.

Seroka shared a story a sergeant told them, about a little girl who often came into a gas station, where he worked security. “She was afraid of him because police took her dad away,” Seroka said. “He had to talk with her, build with her, and buy her a candy bar now and then so she would trust him.” 

Asked if it’s a lot on their shoulders to carry the burden of police reform, Matthew Piter, a recruit from Lakewood, said: “They say we're like the new generation of Cleveland law enforcement, we can build relationships with the kids.”

Weaving a new narrative in Central: Friendly Inn Settlement

The nine-hour day for the recruits ended at The Friendly Inn, a settlement house in the Central neighborhood, where a packed room of residents waited to greet them, children lining up to shake their hands.

As they shared cupcakes around tables, a group of recruits shared cell phone photos of their dogs. Young boys crowded around the recrui

To get to know each other they worked to answer the question: What is most important for the well-being of our community?

“How do you spell people?” 3rd grader Keeshawn Reed, who lives on E. 40th Street, asked one of the recruits, who helped him sound out the word.

Lowell Perry Jr., director of the Central Promise Neighborhood, which is supported by Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, thanked the recruits for taking part the ride-along, a tradition those who put it together hope to improve and continue. 

“We’ve got in this room blank canvasses – both in blue and these children,” Perry said. “We get to decide what this narrative will be,” Perry said.

Photo courtesy of The Plain Dealer

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, which is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System, is the lead convener of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood

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