Politics shouldn't interfere with CHPD
I once asked former Cleveland Heights Police Chief Martin Lentz why his officers did not exercise discretion when issuing parking tickets. He asked if I really thought a large group of armed, uniformed officers should have such discretion. I got his point. The potential for abuse would be enormous. Our police are trained to enforce laws, period.
Chief Lentz further expressed to me his belief in strict traffic law enforcement. He mentioned what he called the “felon community.” He thought people who break big laws frequently break small ones. He said drivers stopped sometimes were leaving the scene of a crime or had outstanding felony warrants. They could be armed. Traffic stops are unpredictable and potentially dangerous. They are not occasions for social work.
I remembered these conversations while thinking about a traffic stop on Sept. 22 that resulted in a complaint filed against Sergeant Naftali Wolf.
I watched the video. Demetrius Kern [the motorist] was angry and uncooperative. He loudly yelled at the officers. He refused requests to provide identification. The officers might reasonably have been concerned that Mr. Kern would become violent. Mr. Kern did not act appropriately.
But Sergeant Wolf was not a model of good behavior either. He got angry. The situation was stressful. He could have handled it better. He let it get too nasty.
The prosecutor exercised discretion. He dismissed charges against Mr. Kern. Police Chief Britton ordered Sergeant Wolf to attend a “de-escalation training session.” Too bad Mr. Kern could not be ordered to attend one himself. I believe the prosecutor and the chief appropriately handled the situation.
Unfortunately, the mayor is using this incident as his excuse to propose a brand new Bureau of Professional Standards. Chief Britton can administer reasonable discipline without one. Such a bureau will interfere with civil service procedures. And it will make personnel decisions unreasonably subject to political interference. This is an inappropriate power grab. It resembles an earlier bad proposal of the mayor to remove the police chief from civil service protection.
In the same video, the next driver stopped by a police officer was polite. He presented identification when asked. He volunteered that he was carrying a licensed firearm. Even so, he was treated with courtesy. Traffic offenders usually are treated well when they cooperate. The police in Cleveland Heights are that professional. They deserve our sympathy and our respect.
Alan Rapoport, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, served on CH City Council (1980–87) and as council president/mayor (1982–87).