Citizens Police Academy – Part VI: Juvenile Diversion Program

Background: The Cleveland Heights Police Department has launched a Citizens Police Academy for members of the community who are interested in learning more about how the police department operates. The first course runs 6-9 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday evenings, for seven weeks beginning Aug. 11 and ending Sept. 30, 2014. This blog post is one of a series about my experience in the program. Click here for the full series.

It’s easy to forget that police officers have the same range of reactions as the rest of us to crime, poverty, drugs, violence, squalor, hopelessness.

For many people, just the highlights that make the news provide all the evidence needed to conclude the world is coming to an end.

Police officers see a lot more than the highlights.

When responding to a domestic violence call, the officer’s priorities are to stabilize the situation, calm down the parties, separate them if possible and investigate whether an arrest is necessary. The dispassion this requires doesn’t mean they’re blind to the trauma that someone has experienced at the hands of a loved one.

When an under-supervised kid with a dysfunctional home gets nabbed for theft, fighting or buying drugs, the police are required to make an arrest. But it doesn’t mean they’re unaware a young life may be circling the drain.

When  the news brings me down, I exercise my the ability to tune it out. Police officers don’t have that luxury.

With more than 20 years on the force, CHPD Inv. Falisa Berry thinks about this a lot. She’s working on a Ph.D. in psychology, and her thesis is on “vicarious trauma” in police officers – how the suffering of other people affects them.

To hear Berry discuss her own frequent encounters with domestic violence over the years is to understand she didn’t pull this thesis topic out of thin air.

But Berry is also head of the city’s Juvenile Diversion Program, which means she’s doing something most police officers can’t; she’s getting involved with people before the worst happens.

The Juvenile Diversion Program only began this January. It identifies first-time, non-violent offenders, 17 or younger, and tries to help them turn around before they get into more serious trouble.

The program runs in cooperation with Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, which identifies candidates and essentially turns them over to the care of their home town.

Officially, the kids’ cases move back to the Cleveland Heights court system, where sanctions include a mentoring program that Berry has developed. It involves group sessions, counseling, supervision and community service.

“These are good kids who made bad choices,” Berry said. Because kids in the program are minors, parental permission is required for participation; parental involvement is not. “I try not to focus on the parents; they’ve had their chance.”

When Berry spoke to us at the Citizens Police Academy, she brought D., who had agreed to talk about her experience in the program. D. talks and dresses like any other high school girl; she has a bright smile and a soft voice.

She was arrested after joining a fight at the public library.

“Most people think of it like a punishment, but it’s not,” D. said of the Juvenile Diversion Program. “Mostly we talk about communication and long-term goals and how to deal with other people and solve problem.” Looking at Berry, D. added: “She talks straight to us. She tells it like it is.”

“Has it affected how you’re doing in school?” someone asked.

D. hesitated. “Well… I wasn’t doing that bad before…”

“Yes you were,” Berry interrupted. D. smiled and went silent, acknowledging the sudden example of straight talk. “But she’s getting straight A’s right now,” Berry said.

Currently the program is full, with 40 kids actively involved, another 15 waiting for a spot to open and no shortage of prospects in the pipeline. Berry acknowledged that “not everyone is going to make it. Some of these kids are really damaged. Most of them don’t have positive role models. Maybe I can reach some of them. I hope I can.”

As we all know, Cleveland Heights has plenty of kids who need more supervision, more direction, more people to invest in them. This is a symptom of poverty, and with more than half the students in the Cleveland Hts.-University Hts. City School District qualifying for the federal free lunch program, we have more than our share of poverty here.

Is it the job of the police department to do social work? Perhaps not. But if it doesn’t go after kids before they get ruined, it’ll be chasing them down later. More trauma.

I don’t know much about the people who have been charged in the homicide of Arrion Smiley earlier this month or Jim Brennan this summer. But I don’t think I’m on thin ice to declare them lost causes who just need to be put away.

But not very long ago, they were kids too. Maybe funny kids, with a sense of humor and a warm smile. At one point, there was still hope for each of them.

 

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Ohio’s Plunderbund Examines Correlation of School District Ratings with Family Income

For many years Ohio has used a Performance Index to judge its school districts.  The Performance Index is a formula based primarily on standardized test scores.  Not too long ago at a meeting, when someone pointed out that the Performance Index seems to reflect family wealth and may not, in fact, represent school quality, an expert responded that we pretty much have to use the Performance Index as an indicator of school quality in Ohio because it is really the only long standing, reliable indicator we have.  I wondered about this at the time.  A rating system that is wrong and that unfairly assigns blame, however handy, doesn’t seem to me to be a good tool to use.

(Of course there is also the question about why we are creating a competition in the first place—ranking and rating school districts when they serve different children and they are located in different kinds of communities.)

Finally this year people are paying more attention to how Ohio’s school district performance ratings are calculated, because Ohio is in the process of moving from a ranking of “Excellent, Effective, Continuous Improvement, Academic Watch and Academic Emergency” to a more damning system for many school districts—A, B, C, D, and F.  Many of the school districts caught in the “Continuous Improvement” range have been able to benefit from the quaisi-positive frame of that term.  Now some of those supposedly “C” school districts will fall to the D or F category.  And the stakes are high.  Last week this blog (here) quoted a statement from a 2005 National Council of Churches document that clarifies one of the serious consequences in actual practice of evaluating schools and school districts by students’ test scores, a practice codified in 2002 in the federal testing law No Child Left Behind: “The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more complex demands made by the law as ‘in need of improvement.’ Such labeling of schools and districts encourages families with means to move to wealthy, homogeneous school districts.”

Over the weekend the Columbus, Ohio blog Plunderbund published an investigation of the meaning and impact of Ohio’s Performance IndexPlunderbund concludes: “If you live in the vast majority of Ohio’s communities (92.7%) where the median income is less than $45,000, your school district has less than 1% of a chance at receiving an A on John Kasich’s report card… Nine years’ worth of data appear to reveal that the best way to improve student test scores is to increase the community’s income.  So we must ask ourselves—What are Ohio’s standardized tests truly measuring and what do the school report cards really tell us?  Do they tell us about our schools or do they reveal something much, much bigger?… From where we sit, it looks like John Kasich’s actions, including his ‘new report card,’ simply continue to heap the blame on Ohio’s public schools while he ignores a much larger issue.”

That much larger issue, of course, is the concentrated poverty of families in Ohio’s big-city school districts, where in particular schools all children live in poverty, many at half the federal poverty line.  Also reflected in the school performance index is the growing inequality across the state—as many of the smaller towns and rural areas remain poor or mixed-income, while affluence is increasingly concentrated in a handful of outer suburbs in metropolitan counties. Just two weeks ago, the Plain Dealer‘s Rich Exner examined new, 2013 data released from the U.S. Census, data that ranks Cleveland second in the United States (among cities of at least 250,000 people) in the rate of family poverty; only Detroit is poorer.  Exner reports that Cleveland’s poverty rate for children is 54.4 percent. Again among large cities, only Detroit’s child poverty rate is higher, at 58.6 percent.  These are alarming numbers.

The best data source for examining school poverty is the number of children who qualify for free lunch and are enrolled in specific public schools.  The number of children in a school district who qualify for free lunch excludes families without children and children living in a school district who may attend private or parochial schools.  To qualify for free lunch, a child must live in a family living at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line; hence a family of four whose children qualify for free lunch has an income under $31,005 per year.    This blog recently compared Cuyahoga County school district Performance Index ratings to free lunch data by school district and concluded that the performance index reflects the rate of family poverty.

While broader income data includes all families and not merely those using public schools, yesterday Plunderbund reached the same conclusion by comparing the median adjusted gross income of all school district residents to the Ohio school district Performance Index:  “Instead of looking specifically at the level of student poverty, we decided to look at the overall income of the entire community using personal income tax data provided by the Ohio Department of Taxation.  What we’ve discovered echoes the findings by Dr. Fleeter (who has used school lunch data), but the magnitude of the problem, and how Governor Kasich’s new grade-based report card puts public schools in a more negative light, surprised even us…  We weren’t content to look at just one or two years’ worth of scores, so we downloaded nine years of PI (Performance Index) Scores for Ohio’s public school districts.”

Plunderbund‘s analysis focuses on the impact of concentrated wealth—school districts that are rated A on the Performance Index:  “Only 44 out of the 610 school districts have ever received an A rating… Eight of Ohio’s 610 school districts have always received an A rating for Performance Index in each of the nine years… Seven school districts received an A rating for the first time in 2013-2014.  The median income for those seven districts is $52,025…”

All this information about Ohio’s richest school districts and their A grades should also motivate readers to think about the F grades being awarded to the school districts called to serve the children living in poverty who reside in their communities.  Many of these children may arrive hungry, may live in families forced to move frequently, may have been exposed to violence in their neighborhoods, and may have missed out on pre-school and preventive medical and dental care.  The question for the public is how to support Ohio’s school districts with high rates of family poverty to enable the schools to address the challenges many poor children bring to school.

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Columbus Dispatch: Ohio School District Rankings Correlate with Family Income

Back in 2005, the Committee on Public Education and Literacy of the National Council of Churches released a statement, Ten Moral Concerns in No Child Left Behind.  As number 9 on its list of concerns, the Committee wrote:

“The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more complex demands made by the law as ‘in need of improvement.’ Such labeling of schools and districts encourages families with means to move to wealthy, homogeneous school districts.”

This blog, commenting on Ohio’s recent release of 2013 state report cards for its over 600 school districts, described how the editors of Rethinking Schools frame the very same observation—that school accountability based on high-stakes standardized tests merely disguises class and race privilege as merit.  When the state calls some districts “excellent” and others “academic failure,” or when it awards grades of A, B, C, D, and F to its school districts, it is telling parents that if they want their children to be well educated, they should move (if they can afford it) to one of the “excellent” or “A-rated” school districts.  This blog’s recent post on the state’s ratings of school districts compared school lunch data identifying the number of children living at or below 130% of the federal poverty level attending school in several greater Cleveland school districts with the state’s “performance index” rating for the same school districts and pointed out that the top-rated districts are wealthy, often outer-ring school districts, while the low-rated districts serve masses of children in poverty and include the city and many of the suburbs located in the inner ring.

Earlier this week one of Ohio’s major newspapers, the Columbus Dispatch, published an article about  expert research that reached the same conclusion. It is heartening to see the press drawing attention to this very significant issue.  Jim Siegel, the reporter cites research conducted by Howard Fleeter of the Education Tax Policy Institute for the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio Association of Business Officials, and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (The research report itself has not been made publicly available.) that demonstrates the correlation between the economic level of each school district’s families and scores on standardized tests:

“A recent study found that on the performance index, a weighted average that measures how well students do on state tests in grades 3-10, districts scoring below 90 have an average 83 percent poverty rate, compared with 14 percent for districts that score above 105.  In between, results show that the higher the scores, the lower the poverty.  No school district with more than 50 percent poverty scored an A on the performance index.  The study also found that the racial gap remains significant.”

Also encouraging is the fact that legislators seem to be paying attention.  According to Siegel’s story, state senator Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, and chairwoman of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, has committed to holding “hearings on the poverty gap to highlight the issue and search for answers.  It’s going to take a significant investment, but I can’t think of a better way to jump-start the economy.”  Lehner is reported to believe the data confirming the link between family income and student achievement supports investment in early childhood education and all-day kindergarten.

According to Siegel’s story, members of the Ohio House of Representatives are also paying attention: “House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard, D-Columbus, called the education disparity ‘the biggest issue that we have because it impacts everything.  It impacts health-care disparities, crime, business and the workforce….”

Howard Fleeter, the consultant who conducted the study, is reported to be unsurprised by the results of his new study: “Howard Fleeter, who analyzed the data on behalf of Ohio’s major public-education organizations, knows the correlation between poverty and performance isn’t exactly a breakthrough.  The issue has been discussed nationally since at least the 1960s….”  Fleeter is quoted: “The fact that we’re still looking at a graph in 2014 that shows this pattern is disturbing.”

In his daily e-mail blast on September 25, 2014, Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, commented on the correlation of the new state rankings with family income, and the state’s failure adequately to address what is a massive structural problem:  “Historically, poverty communities have not had the political clout to entice or force the state to provide the essential compensatory funding.  In the past, state officials have thrown a little money at the problem and provided a way for some students to escape the traditional public schools located in poverty environments.”

In a speech at a Washington, D.C. town hall not long ago, the Rev. Jessie Jackson made a very similar and profound observation about our nation’s current competitive, rank-and-rate school accountability policies:  “There are those who would make the case for a Race to the Top for those who can run. But ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”

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Citizens Police Academy

In August-September 2014, the Cleveland Heights Police Department and the Cleveland Heights Police Academy offered their first Citizens Police Academy. Here is Bob Rosenbaum’s series of blog posts about the experience.

 

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Citizens Police Academy – Part V: Traffic Enforcement

Background: The Cleveland Heights Police Department has launched a Citizens Police Academy for members of the community who are interested in learning more about how the police department operates. The first course runs 6-9 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday evenings, for seven weeks beginning Aug. 11 and ending Sept. 30, 2014. This blog post is one of a series about my experience in the program. Click here for the full series.

An old dash-mounted radar unit and antenna; no surprise, your police department is using much more modern equipment to catch speeders.

If you happened to drive through the intersection of Monticello and Noble Roads between 8-9 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 15, there’s about a 100% chance somebody checked your speed.

If you were going too fast, you got a free pass because that somebody was most likely a cadet in the Cleveland Heights Citizens Police Academy – not certified to use the device for law enforcement purposes.

Here are a few things I learned on speed enforcement day at the academy:

  • Skilled traffic enforcement officers know you’re speeding well before they put a radar gun on you. In fact, if you have access to a radar gun to validate your guesses, it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes of concentrated effort to become a pretty good judge of how fast passing cars are traveling.
  • There is technique to using a radar gun and its high-tech cousin Lidar (same concept but with laser/light rather than radar/sound). Not as much technique, perhaps, as cooking a soufflé, but enough that some officers are better than others at catching speeders.
  • Those who are better at it are the ones who are probably on duty when you’re going to too fast.
  • Officers are on high guard when they make a traffic stop. Despite their ability to run license plates before approaching the vehicle, they never know the full story of the person or people inside the car (see my previous post about the routine traffic stop in Middlefield, Ohio that turned into a firefight). The surrounding traffic is equally dangerous and unpredictable. Combined, these factors make it one of the most dangerous routines of their job.
  • When stopped here for speeding, the officer will likely ask if there’s a reason you were going too fast, according to Inv. Timothy O’Haire, who teaches traffic-stop techniques to cadets at the Cleveland Heights Police Academy. If you’re polite and the violation isn’t too severe, a good answer may get you off with a neighborly warning  (not that it’s actually happened to me). “I’ve really gotta go to the bathroom,” is pretty common.
  • Radar detectors don’t work well in heavy rain. The radar unit in the squad car to which I was assigned didn’t get more than four or five good reads in 45 minutes.
  • Lidar, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the weather.
  • The police department uses both.

Residents and visitors to Cleveland Heights often have choice words about the priorities of our police department. They suggest the emphasis on traffic enforcement takes attention away from more serious crimes.

While I’ve generally assumed the CHPD has the resources to do both effectively, I have questioned the need – publicly stating my own concern that aggressive traffic enforcement presents an economic problem for the city.

When people fear that coming to Cleveland Heights is going to result in either getting mugged or getting a ticket, they’ll simply choose to spend their money elsewhere. Is that fear justified? It doesn’t matter; if they believe it they’ll act on it.

Over the last five years, I’ve asked various city officials about this and have never gotten a satisfactory answer why traffic enforcement is so important.

Last week, for the first time, I did.

“People know Cleveland Heights has a reputation about traffic enforcement, but what they don’t understand is that our traffic officers make a lot of arrests,” said Cpt. Geoffrey Barnard, commander of the Cleveland Heights Police Academy. “By making routine traffic stops they get a lot of bad people and guns and drugs off the street.”

There’s a passive benefit too; just as aggressive traffic enforcement may drive away honest people, it would seem to keep thieves and thugs out of the city too. Because if there’s something worse than getting stopped for speeding on your way to dinner and a movie, it’s getting stopped for speeding with large amounts of cash, drugs or weapons in the car.

It’s hard to measure something that doesn’t happen. So there’s no way to know how many crimes are averted here because the CHPD Traffic Bureau makes it too risky for criminals to even drive through the city. (Whatever the number is, I’m sure we can all agree that it would be nice if even more of them felt that way.)

Yet the argument makes sense, so I’m eating crow. I didn’t understand this constructive reason for all the speed traps. I feel better about traffic enforcement now that I do, and I’m going to stop complaining about it.

But it does still leave us with a problem: How do we keep more of the bad guys out of the city while making it more appealing to everyone else?

The police department isn’t the Chamber of Commerce – and we don’t want it to be. It’s not likely to ever address that question on its own.

But if anyone else could come up with a plan, I’m now confident our police officers have the training and desire to be a constructive part of it.

 

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