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City Club of Cleveland: Gender & Racial Diversity Will Improve Police Community Relations

On Friday, July 24th, we went to the City Club for a program titled, "To Defuse Police Violence, Hire More Women Officers" presented by Ms. Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Feminist Majority, which are national organizations working for women's equality, empowerment, and non-violence.  Ms. Spillar is also Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine. When we first arrived we met Ms. Anna Bradley-Norton, a 20 year-old woman who immigrated to the United States from Russia when she was adopted in 1996. Her mother told us that she has recently begun to take an interest in the history and the culture of Russia.

We shared a table with Mr. Craig S. Howell from the Cleveland Metroparks Ranger Department; Mr. Blaine Griffin, Cleveland Community Relations Board Director; Ms. Dana Textoris from Grants Plus; Ms. Michelle L. Heyer and Ms. Carole S. Rendon from the U.S. Attorney's Officer; Reverend Jimmy Gates from Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church; and Ms. Marianne Crosley and Mr. Pat Haggerty from the Cleveland Leadership Center.

Also at our table was Ms. Anita Gray, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League who is currently serving on the Selection Panel for the Consent Decree. It is Ms. Gray's job to help select the commission members who will work with the Cleveland Police Dept. regarding the enforcement of the consent decree.

Ms. Spillar was introduced by Ms. Jan Roller who noted that consent decrees have seen a 50% increase since 2009 and that issues like the training and community engagement of police officers in Cleveland is going to have to be addressed.

During her presentation, Ms. Spillar maintained the right balance between passion and statistics as she make the case that if the Cleveland Police Department (CPD); which has a 2/3 composition of white officers in a city that is 2/3 nonwhite; were to be made more racially diverse and particularly if more women were hired the amount of tumultuous altercations between the police and the citizenry, in which excessive force by the police is an issue would decrease and community relations would greatly improve.

She quoted a study that showed that in similar circumstances male officers were much more likely to resort to physical force than female officers. She also shared a finding that male officers were 8.5 times more likely to be charged with an excessive force violation that female officers. Ms. Spillar said that part of the reason for this is that male officers see their job as control through authority whereas female officers see themselves as public servants.

Ms. Spillar said that the consent decree and the anticipated charter amendment are excellent starting points to effect change and that the goal should be to create a CPD that is 50% female. However, the research of many police departments has shown that a few of the factors acting as impediments for this are misguided recruitment practices that are geared towards attracting men more than women, a hostile work environment for the women officers in which sexual harassment is not uncommon, and poor administration within the departments themselves. Ms. Spillar also questioned the physical tests that must be passed that place perhaps too much emphasis on upper body strength thereby eliminating many otherwise qualified female candidates just as now outdated height requirements used to eliminate otherwise qualified males years ago. Ms. Spillar said that research has shown that the physical strength of a police officer has never been a factor in diffusing a potentially violent situation.

What's more people are often more comfortable dealing with the police if female officers are present. In fact female officers are might even be better at dealing with cases involving rape and domestic violence.

In terms of recruitment, Ms. Spillar suggested child care center and community colleges would be an excellent place to start. She also suggested that a bonus be offered to veteran police officers who refer women who are recruited and make it through training with the help of some mentoring by the veterans.

During the Q and A, Ms. Spillar was asked if she could name other countries where the police departments were more gender balanced than those in the United States. Ms. Spillar indicated that gender balancing is a problem faced by police departments in all countries but praised Brazil for creating all female police districts where women could go and report domestic violence situations. She also complimented President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia for establishing an all-female peace keeping force because violence within her country is very intense and a lot of it is directed towards women.

We asked Ms. Spillar if, due to the length of time it takes a foreign born person to actually become a U.S. citizen, any cities allow immigrants who are not yet citizens but hold green cards to apply to be a police officer. Ms. Spillar said that, unfortunately, she did not know but agreed with us that the idea did have merit because an immigrant might be very fluent in a foreign language which may be of use in the community and, moreover, an immigrant takes great pride in being part of the United States fabric and wants to succeed at his/her job.

Ms. Spillar also agreed with our friend, Dr. Michael Dover of the CSU School of Social Work, that schools of social work might be an excellent place to recruit police officers.

The last question that she took was from Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone who commended her for giving all of us "a lot to ponder" and then asked where we go from here. Ms. Spillar reiterated that the issue of gender equity in the CPD could possibly be addressed in the charter amendment.

Ms. Spillar concluded by saying that women in Cleveland must be told that a new kind of CPD will be in the process of being created. When word gets out about this new "persona," women will want to be a part of it.

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