Multiple-Stream Analysis of Greater Cleveland Public Safety

An Introduction of the Policy Issue

The dialogue on how best to approach policing and public safety has ramped up significantly since the murder-by-police of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others over the course of 2020.  While egregious and often racially disparate police violence is far from a new phenomenon in the United States, the amplification of Mr. Floyd’s murder, especially, by the Black Lives Matter social justice movement catapulted the issue of law enforcement violence against Black and Brown people straight into the public eye.  Not only was murder-by-police a commonplace occurence, it came with with little-to-no consequences for the involved officers, their supervisors, or on up the chain of the command (Sakala and La Vigne, 2019).  Indeed, this sort of violence appeared to be publicly sanctioned by the powers-that-be as the results of these instances of assault and murder continued without any move to change the systems that enabled such behavior (Anderson, 2016).

While this issue is seen across the United States, it occurs close to home, too.  Black Lives Matter protests made their way to Cleveland, Ohio and surrounding areas in Summer 2020 and beyond.  The City of Cleveland’s leadership has responded by declaring racism is a public health crisis (Higgs, 2020).  The City of Cleveland Heights has instituted a Racial Justice Task Force composed of twenty-five residents intended to ensure social inequities are never overlooked or permitted (Jewell, 2020).  The City of Shaker Heights is gearing up for a pilot program that would bring mental health professionals into the realm of first-responders (Weiss et al., 2020).  Local leadership is listening to the pleas and demands of the region that, as a whole, is a nearly 50/50 resident split of Black and white people (Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing, 2021).  With instances of blatant racial disparity running back many, many years, this reckoning is long overdue.

Many questions remain, however, about what best practice can move the conversation forward in equitable and just ways.  The focus on police brutality is certainly earned but more attention must be paid to that which stands outside of the spotlight: the social and systemic frameworks that sustain the climates where law enforcement aggression against Black and Brown people is normalized and shrugged off.  While the attention must be paid to the training and education of the so-called “peacekeepers” -- as the State of Ohio dubs its law enforcement practitioners (Ohio Attorney General, 2021) -- more must be done to parlay such training and education to local leaders, community organizations, and even residents themselves.  Truly, policing is but one aspect of community safety -- only when the issue as a whole can be addressed will sustainable change occur (Anderson, 2016; Obasogie and Newman, 2019). 

For instance, it is a terribly-kept-secret that students arriving on the Case Western Reserve Campus on Cleveland’s East Side are told during site tours and orientation not to venture out of the CWRU bubble to the “unsavory” neighborhoods nearby.  Students are ritualistically informed that “certain places” off campus are dangerous and cautioned not to go there, despite the fact that many CWRU students live in those neighborhoods which are resource-rich in cultural history and other amenities.  The blunt truth is those “bad” neighborhoods have predominantly Black residents and are classified as some of the most impoverished areas in the city (Armstrong, 2020).  Instead of the university using its position as a wealthy institution to partner with its neighbors, it instead tolerates (if not fans the flames of) whispers of half-truths or deliberate fabrications to influence new students to stay away from those neighborhoods, which only furthers the divide.  If CWRU leadership were to commit to socially just and equitable explorations of their own biases and how the trickle down of such messaging is impacting not only the mindset of students but the overall relationship with the surrounding neighborhoods, perhaps a new day could dawn.  As it is, CWRU police have been participants in frankly embarrassing miscarriages of justice, such as when Councilman Kevin Conwell was detained for “walking while Black” (Higgs, 2019, para. 1) directly outside of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, home of a “Top Ten” nationally-ranked social work program (Case Western Reserve University, 2021).  

As it stands right now, approaches to public safety -- and the policies that provide those frameworks -- are at a critical crossroads (Subramanian et al., 2020).  With the sound turned up on matters related to unnecessary police violence, options ranging from a total defunding of police to a doubling-down on policing as-is, the discussion abounds.  Those who hold tightly to maintaining the status quo fall under more conservative brackets that favor the “law and order” dog-whistle to keep existing power dynamics in place (Thomson-DeVeaux et al., 2020).  Meanwhile, there is mounting persistence from liberal advocates who want to see change in public safety approaches that will ensure that police are better trained and not being pulled into situations they are not equipped to handle, like individuals suffering from a mental health crisis (Calahan, 2020).  Local advocacy groups like Safer Heights in Cleveland Heights are springing into existence as community members are no longer willing to sit back and leave it up to those who have been entrusted with upholding the system to take note when a change is needed.  

Identifying the Participants

When considering approaches to public safety in the City of Cleveland and surrounding areas, it’s natural to consider local leadership, both in the municipalities as well as in the city’s many institutions.  While mayors and city council members are in a position to enact changes to existing systems, it is pressure from the constituents and related advocacy groups to push the inclusion of racial bias awareness into the conversation around policing and public safety.

The visible participants in this process are the elected officials themselves as well as spokespeople or leadership from the major institutions, the police chiefs and others from law enforcement agencies, and advocacy groups.  Additionally, residents and community leaders who engage in the process by organizing meetings with fellow residents, attending city council or similar institutional-level meetings, holding rallies or protests, partnering with organizations, and other rallying efforts, including social media.  The clarifying distinction here is that this level of participation is outward facing, meaning these players have name and/or face recognition connected to the dialogue around public safety in the Greater Cleveland area.

Less visible but still essential are the support staffs for any of the municipal or institutional leadership, academics or researchers focused on policing, and other tangential stakeholders, such as those who work in the mental health field or advocacy.  These players are doing the legwork, doing the research, helping to form the messaging. The media, too, is part of this level in their role of amplifying, disseminating, and also scrutinizing the ideas and plans being suggested by the stakeholders.  While decisions are being made on the municipal and institutional levels, the work that goes into formulating those decisions and broadcasting them to the greater public is a necessary part of the equation.


The national conversation around best practices for public safety have waxed and waned since before the country’s founding but has reached a new height of urgency given the recent upswell in protests and advocacy against police violence being perpetrated on people and communities of color.  While the issues related to public safety policy in the Cleveland area, specifically, stretch back just as long, the city gained national notoriety with the 2014 murder-by-police of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice (Dewan and Oppel, 2015).  Since then, Cleveland has become yet another city on a list of cities with egregious police killings.  Rice’s case resulted in a consent decree that called for, among other things, an emphasis on officer training on de-escalation tactics, a ban on retaliatory violence, and stricter adherence to police standards (Graham, 2015).  But the truth, too, is that with the disparities being so literally black and white (Rice, a Black youth, was killed by a white officer) and with the reality that consent decrees fall short in a few ways, including lacking the capacity to stop racial profiling, the system remains unjust (Weichselbaum, 2015).  In this way, modifications to policing happen quite incrementally -- making the impact of those changes all but washed-out as issues continue to escalate over time.

Looking specifically at the Tamir Rice murder-by-police, there was a conflation of errors that began with the dropping of crucial pieces of information during the 9-1-1 dispatch process.  Somehow the initial reports that Rice was a youth with likely a toy gun was lost and officers arriving on the scene rushed at him with guns blazing, calling over police radio that they’d taken down “a Black male, maybe twenty [years old]” (Graham, 2015, para. 4).  The situation was only compounded when Rice’s fourteen-year-old sister was tackled to the ground and put in handcuffs while trying to get to her brother; and, later, Rice’s mother was threatened to be arrested for her “hysterics” upon learning about her son’s murder (Graham, 2015).  The errors in judgment portrayed by the Cleveland Police Department that 2014 day are beyond shocking -- they draw attention to a pattern of excessive force that rarely resulted in officer discipline.  The death of Tamir Rice catapulted this systemic failure into the spotlight (Graham, 2015).

But this, too, is true: the CPD had systematically moved away from a community outreach effort that positioned mini-police stations in various locations, including the recreation center where Rice frequently played basketball.  Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson lamented that had the mini-station still been there, the officer assigned to that post would have almost certainly known Rice and prevented any escalation of violence (Graham, 2015).

This example speaks to the broader issue around public safety policies: while reforms to the trained police officers themselves certainly are needed, those solutions are the equivalent of throwing a thimble of water to extinguish a roaring fire.  Bottom line: Tamir Rice might still be alive today if someone who knew him could have been sent to investigate the 9-1-1 call instead of an officer whose only context was a report coded at the highest threat level (Graham, 2015).

The problem’s origin, then, is complex and forever shifting.  While there is certainly a long history of racial profiling and greater instances of police brutality against Black and Brown people, there is also a community-wide overreliance on services like 9-1-1 (Vermeer et al., 2020). Alternatives to the justice system, like mediation, are readily available in Cleveland but perhaps lesser-known.  Though it may be difficult to be certain that something like the death of Tamir Rice could have been prevented simply by the youth being recognized by the person being called to the scene -- or stepping back even farther, if Rice was better known by the person calling 9-1-1 in the first place -- it’s a strong possibility that simply knowing the people in the neighborhood better is its own form of nonviolent public safety. 

Problem Streams

A community resident and local historian lamented recently that she’d seen a change in how public safety was administered in Cleveland when a 2009 Ohio Supreme Court ruling declared it unlawful to require city employees to live in the communities they served.  As a result, over three hundred such workers immediately moved to the suburbs or other areas (Gomez, 2019).  While there is no specific data on what percentage of police officers live in the communities they serve, it is the perception of residents like this local historian that they do not opt to reside in her neighborhood. Similarly, in a student-lead interview with City of Cleveland Councilwoman Jasmin Santana in March 2020, she expressed frustration that officers patrolling the Clark-Fulton neighborhood, a predominantly Spanish-speaking area of the city, were not bilingual.  If the police aren’t able to view the communities they serve as neighbors or even speak the same language -- if the police see the communities they serve as other -- than it is no great surprise that mistrust, contempt, and perhaps even a sense of rivalry builds up over time.  Imagine what a difference it would make if police and the residents knew each other by name, communicated freely, and demonstrated a mutual respect for each other and the neighborhood.  City officials like Councilwoman Santana are vocal about examining public safety from this more socialized lens -- adding more voices to the conversation would certainly draw necessary attention towards this often unexplored aspect of what it means to live in a “safe” place.

Policy  Streams

Alternatives to public safety are a high focus across the United States right now, with attention being paid to municipalities who have adopted less-traditional models.  For instance, the San Antonio Police Department in Texas has a unit trained specifically in crisis intervention with a specialization in emergency calls requiring mental health services (Calahan, 2020).  Since 1989, Eugene, Oregon has utilized Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS), a very successful alternative program that pairs mental health workers and EMTs to be dispatched on nonviolent calls that have a behavioral element (Vermeer et al., 2020).  Internationally, policing practices are approached in much different ways, especially related to more rigorous training, including psycho-social and implicit bias educational elements, and extensive mentorship of new officers (Burke, 2020; Haberfield, 2016).  

More locally, cities proximate to Cleveland, like Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, are partnering with academic institutions and stakeholders adjacent to some of the issues around policing in their communities -- such as mental health care professionals, EMTS, and related industries -- to redefine their approach.  Cleveland Heights has partnered with Cleveland State to create programming for police officers to do additional implicit bias training and also to study the impacts and outcomes of policing practices within the city (Cleveland State University Diversity Institute, 2020).  Shaker Heights is looking to launch a pilot program that would function similarly to the CAHOOTS model by partnering law enforcement with mental health services and providing crisis intervention training for police officers (Weiss et al., 2021).  In both cases, alternatives came out of extensive research as well as working directly with the communities most impacted by aggressive police behaviors.  Grassroots interest and involvement in police reform has resulted in a number of both spontaneous (but temporary) and more formalized advocacy groups.  In Cleveland Heights, the group Safer Heights rose out of the wave of protest following the killing of George Floyd and their advocacy and involvement has steadily increased along the way, both with continued social action and the cultivation of relationships with Cleveland Heights leadership.

These amendments being made to current policing practices are feasible and valuable, if not without their potential issues.  For instance, Cleveland Heights has 110 sworn officers (Mecklenburg, 2021).  Ensuring all of these officers go through the additional training is only one piece of the puzzle.  There is no guarantee that every officer will reverse their biases, especially without an assured commitment to continued education in this aspect.  Similarly, in Shaker Heights, their pilot program is full of promise and bright ideas, but lacks an explicit focus on racial bias, which is a somewhat glaring flaw in their proposal.  Perhaps there is an assumed Critical Race lens being applied by the program architects, but given the undeniable bias in policing, it is a noteworthy oversight to leave that matter undiscussed in their plans.  

Even so, there is great potential and hope in the shepherding of these programs into Cleveland area communities.  Certainly, paving the way for officers to be holistically prepared to work in the communities they serve is a necessary step.  The missing bridge, though, is the incorporation of racial bias awareness and messaging for community leaders (both elected and not) as well as residents-at-large.  If racism isn’t confronted head-on by every stakeholder, then the issues around public safety will persist. 

Political Streams

Getting discussions about police and public safety reform on city council agendas may have never been easier than before this current era.  With it being such a central focus over the last year and with activism around the topic remaining invigoratingly relentless, policy and lawmakers are paying attention.  Eager to do their part, communities like Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, who are mostly liberal in make-up, took swift and immediate action to respond to resident demands for change, as is noted in the plans each city’s legislature is enacting.  Places like the City of Cleveland, however, are less progressive in their call to action as they are still inching along with progress delineated in the 2015 consent decree, whose terms were only set for five years.  It remains to be seen what city officials, institutional leaders, area experts and researchers, as well as community leadership and resident voices will do to create the needed change in Cleveland policing (Harris, 2020). The determining factor on how swiftly a shift in protocols is implemented, then, hinges more on political favorability within the community itself rather than need itself.  It takes the combination of community or resident insistence and political agreement to move an item onto the agenda and into the realm of reform.

Policy Window

These streams were brought together by grassroots advocacy and activism.  As a result of the Black Lives Matter protests happening this summer all across the country -- including the Greater Cleveland area -- residents and community leaders brought their demands to policy and lawmakers, calling for immediate action to try and resolve police brutality against Black and Brown people.  In many ways, it was the perfect merger of all three streams creating enough force to burst a long-held dam of resistance against significant change in policing practices.  Without the perfect storm of the COVID-19 pandemic which left many people unemployed and/or working from home more than ever before and the murder-by-police of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, the sheer volume and consistency of the Black Lives Matter protests may not have happened.  While police brutality and misconduct is far from a new problem, what gave it new urgency was this creation of time: people could show up in droves to the protests because they were perhaps less tied to traditional work-responsibilities.  Additionally, the fatigue of the pandemic and its stay-at-home orders created opportunities for people all over the world to direct their frustrations somewhere productive.  In many places, like Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, a new approach was developed quickly.  In other places, like Cleveland-proper, progress was made in declaring racism a public health crisis but still lags in its chance to confront true public safety reform.


Policy changes around police training and conduct are a necessary element of overall public safety reform, but what is lacking is the bigger picture of how to make these changes sustainable.  Messaging around the issue that only speaks to law enforcement and police officers is missing the opportunity to get at the root cause, which in many cases is linked directly to racism and systemic racism.  If communities adopted Asset Based Community Development frameworks that emphasize cultivating already-existing strengths, empowerment through storytelling, and co-creation of norms and rituals by folks across power differentials, there would be increased opportunity to get to know stakeholders and reduce the urge to assume who the other people involved are.  If a Critical Race Theory or related social theories were emphasized and utilized in the process, it would open the dialogue up even further and allow for deeper community understanding and eventually healing.  Police reform is a great step forward, but it is not the only step and may not even be the most effective first step.  It is the one most communities seem to be favoring at this point and so those efforts should be applauded over the alternative of non-action.  In a more perfect world, there’d be a stronger adherence to wisdom akin to All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, whose first rule is share.  In this case, that means sharing power, sharing space, and sharing the stories that created our being.  Programs like Foundations of Community Building (FCB), created and run by The Community Innovation Network at Case Western Reserve University, provide such opportunities for folks across different power differentials to learn and grow together (Community Innovation Network, 2021).  Amplifying and creating more programs like FCB aids in constructing that missing link of connection between stakeholders and teaches skills to reduce harm along the way.


Kingdon’s framework is a useful tool for examining public safety reform policy.  Separating out the three streams helps provide some clarity both to who the players were and how the issue was being confronted.  While nothing stands out as being absent from this framework, it could create more space for discussion around proposed policy limitations.  For instance, a very complex issue like public safety may not have one single policy suggestion attached to it. It may also have incomplete or misguided policy suggestions attached to it.  Creating another stream -- a “What’s Missing from this Policy?” stream -- might help broaden the conversation around the change being proposed and allow for a less narrow view of the issue being explored.  An empirical evaluation of Kingdon’s framework would be best determined in retrospect. By reviewing usage of his model and the outcomes of the policies that have been processed through it could reveal its overall success rate in proficiently evaluating policy change over time.


--Anderson, C. (2016). White rage: The unspoken truth of our racial divide. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

--Armstrong, D. (2020). The startling research and disparate impact of Cleveland Clinic’s private police force. ProPublica.

--Calahan, R. (2020). How the San Antonio Police are rethinking mental health.  Texas Observer.

--Case Western Reserve University (2021). The Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

--Cleveland State University Diversity Institute (2020). Memorandum: Training, Policy Analysis, Data Collection and Community Engagement Proposal for the Cleveland Heights Police Department.

--Community Innovation Network (2021).  Foundations of Community Building.  Case Western Reserve University.

--Dewan, S. and Oppel Jr., R. (2015).  In Tamir Rice Case, Many Errors by Cleveland Police, Then a Fatal One. The New York Times.

--Gomez, H. (2019). End of residency law takes tiny bite; about 300 Cleveland employees have left for suburbs.

--Graham, D. (2015). Can the Feds Clean Up Cleveland's Police Force?. The Atlantic.

--Haberfeld, M. (2016). Comparative Policing Revisited: The Struggle toward Democracy in the 21st Century. Hum. Rts., 42, 18.

--Harris, S. (2020). What’s going on with the Cleveland Consent Decree?. ACLU Ohio.

--Higgs, R. (2019). Cleveland Councilman Kevin Conwell decries 'walking while black' and calls for closer scrutiny of Case Western Reserve police.

--Higgs, R. (2020). Cleveland City Council declares racism a public health crisis, launching community-wide effort to tackle inequities.

--Jewell, T. Cleveland Heights City Council ready to duly appoint 25 members to new Racial Justice Task Force.

--Mecklenburg, A. (2021). Message from the Chief of Police.  The City of Cleveland Heights.

--Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing (2021). Social and economic data.


--Ohio Attorney General (2021). How to become a peace officer in Ohio.

--Sakala, L., & La Vigne, N. (2019). Community-Driven Models for Safety and Justice. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 16(1), 253-266.

--Subramanian, R., Eisen, L. B., Merkl, T., Arzy, L., Stroud, H., King, T., ... & Nahra, A. A Federal Agenda for Criminal Justice Reform.

--Thomson-DeVeaux, O., Rakich, N., and Butchireddygari, L. (2020). Why’s it so rare for police officers to face legal consequences?. FiveThirtyEight.

--Vermeer, M. J., Woods, D., & Jackson, B. A. (2020). Would law enforcement leaders 

support defunding the police? Probably - if communities ask police to solve fewer problems. RAND Corporation 2020.

Weichselbaum, S. (2015). Policing the police. The Marshall Project.

--Weiss, D.E., Chaiken, J.E., DeMuth, J., Sweeney, P. (2021). Memorandum: Recommendation for a Shaker Heights Crisis Response Pilot Program. 


This paper was written as part of my MSSA program.

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