Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, responding to the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, acknowledged Thursday that the city’s police force has issues.
“We believe we have a problem within the Division of Police. We don’t think it’s a systemic failure, but we do believe we have a problem,” Jackson said at a press event on Thursday.
On Nov. 22, Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed Rice, who was holding a toy “airsoft” gun outside of the Cudell Recreation Center. Surveillance video showed Loehmann and his partner shooting the boy within seconds of arriving at the scene.
“I do not want children to die at the hands of police officers. I do not want adults to die at the hands of police officers,” Jackson said. “But at the same time, I don’t want a policeman not be able to go home because he was killed on the street because he didn’t do something he should have done.”
Jackson’s comments came a week after the U.S. Department of Justice found “reasonable cause” to believe the Cleveland Police Department routinely has used excessive force. In the DOJ’s civil rights investigation, launched last year, federal officials examined hundreds of high-profile cases in which officers engaged in unnecessary use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes.
“There are problems in the Division of Police that we need to address. But there are problems external to the Division of Police that really have a great impact on how things happen internally,” Jackson added.
The mayor said he welcomed the review of the police by the DOJ, which also has opened civil rights investigations in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. Grand juries decided not to indict the white officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.
The City of Cleveland will conduct its own internal review of the DOJ’s findings to examine what local officials believe are legitimate concerns.
The Rice family and its attorneys earlier this week demanded a trial by jury for Loehmann, instead of the grand jury that is set to convene in the case when an internal police review concludes early next year. Local officials have called for the resignation of Michael McGrath, director of the Cleveland Department of Public Safety, and Martin Flask, the special executive assistant to Jackson who used to serve as head of DPS. Local leaders also have asked for the mayor to begin a national search for a new public safety director.