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Zack Reed focus groups say they’re wary of police, but still want more community police presence

August 20, 2018

Zack Reed focus groups say they’re wary of police, but still want more community police presence

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Former Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed has been talking a lot this summer about violence in the community. 

Reed, who has held more than half a dozen focus sessions on people’s views toward policing and crime, has found two conflicting constants: 

In every session participants have said there needs to be a greater police presence and more community policing. Residents, whether East Side or West Side Cleveland or in a suburb like Parma, are wary of police. 

A councilman for 16 years, Reed gave up his seat last year to challenge Mayor Frank Jackson for election. Neighborhood violence was key issue in his campaign.  

And Reed has talked unabashedly about trying to keep the community focused on the issue, noting that he might run again for public office. 

The focus sessions he has been holding this summer around Cuyahoga County are backed with a $5,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation.  

The first session was in July with a group of black teens and young adults from Cleveland, mostly male, who were learning construction skills through the Building Great Futures program, a collaboration of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland and Youth Opportunities Unlimited.  

Reed met with the group at the offices of ABC Contractors in Broadview Heights. 

Most of that group said they were wary of the police, that the police needed to do more community interaction and that a greater police presence was necessary to deter crime in their neighborhoods.  

That didn’t surprise Reed. He said he was surprised, though, when he heard the same kinds of responses the next day from a group in Parma. That group was more diverse in age, race and economic status. 

Since then he has held sessions from West Park to Lee Harvard in Cleveland. 

“I would say that the similar things that I’m hearing are all about the police,” Reed said. Those include issues of trust toward officers and fears about safety, whether in neighborhoods or at recreation centers. 

That’s where the two seemingly contradictory constants come together. 

While participants expressed distrust, they want better, community-oriented police who interact with residents. 

Toward that end, Mayor Frank Jackson and police Chief Calvin Williams recently unveiled a 15-officer unit -- three for each of the city’s five neighborhood police districts – to focus on community engagement. Each officer is tasked with developing relationships with residents and community leaders in their neighborhoods. 

Reed said he thinks spreading them out is a mistake. He would prefer they be deployed to specific hot spots as one group. 

The Jackson administration has put a heavy focus on rec centers, seeking to use them as a point of access for addressing violence among youth as a public health issue. 

That includes hiring counselors for the centers and training all employees on how to address violence and the stresses and traumas associated with it. 

“The young people are telling you they still are not going, or their mothers aren’t letting them go [to rec centers] because they think it’s too dangerous,” Reed said. 

Reed intends to hold two or three more sessions. After that, the information will be catalogued to see how viewpoints differ from inner Cleveland to outer suburbs. From that, a report -- one he describes as a “call to action” -- will be presented in October. 

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