Five Cleveland-Marshall College of Law students had the opportunity to work on criminal justice reform in the local community firsthand this Fall as participants in Dean Lee Fisher's pop-up practicum on Cleveland Police Reform. Students Jessica Bradburn Loucks, Brittany T Chung, Alaina Clark, Brenden Carlin and Elizabeth Sparks worked directly with Dean Fisher, who is one of 13 members of the Cleveland Community Police Commission and chair of the commission’s Bias-Free Policing Work Group.
The Cleveland Community Police Commission (CPC) began its work in September 2015, authorized under the Federal Consent Decree between the City of Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice. The mission of the CPC is to make recommendations on policies and practices related to community and problem-oriented policing, bias-free policing, and police transparency; to work with the many communities that make up Cleveland for the purpose of developing recommendations for police practices that reflect an understanding of the values and priorities of Cleveland residents; and to report to the City and community as a whole and to provide transparency on police department reforms.
Dean Fisher noted, “This was a special opportunity to involve our students in the important work of the Cleveland Police Commission. Police-community relations is the most important issue facing American cities today."
The students viewed the police reform practicum as an opportunity to put their legal skills to use to directly benefit the greater Cleveland community and as a unique chance to obtain an in-depth understanding of the issues surrounding the prevalent topics of police reform.
As part of the practicum, students held guest lectures with a host of influential individuals representing all sides of police reform and related considerations. The speakers included a former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, attorneys from the Cleveland Law Department and several private attorneys, including one who has represented Tamir Rice’s family. Students also attended at least two Bias Free Community Engagement meetings and three CPC public meetings.
“My favorite thing about the practicum was meeting with the guest speakers,” said Bradburn Loucks. “They each represented different aspects of police reform and it was enlightening to hear from people who offer very different viewpoints.”
Beyond the expert insight the guest speakers provided, the attorneys who spoke to the class illustrated the different roles future attorneys can play in the community and criminal justice system.
“The speakers exhibited how attorneys play a pivotal role in our community's structure and in achieving systemic change in criminal justice and the community,” said Chung.
The practicum also included assignments that had meaningful, real-world applications. As a group, the students reviewed the proposed Cleveland Police Department Bias Free Policing Policy and wrote a memo to Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams with recommended changes to the proposed policy based on recommendations documented by the Bias-Free Work Group in 2016. As a final assignment, each student prepared a memo to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Safety Director Michael McGrath, and Police Chief Williams with their findings on a specific area of interest related to police reform. Topics included community policing, crisis intervention training, and the CPC’s effectiveness.
“I feel our work made a difference because it generated interest and intellectual discussions among young professionals,” said Clark. “The practicum exceeded my expectations.”