CMHA Officers Provide Help, Not Handcuffs

The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department began its “Police Assistance Referral” program about three years ago, and since then nearly 4,600 CMHA residents – primarily in the Central Neighborhood – have benefited.

The referral initiative shifts police-citizen relations and recognizes that police are usually the first responders to social crises. 

"Eighty percent of police officers respond to non-arrest situations, and the CMHA police are no different,” said Michael Walker, executive director of Partnership for a Safer Cleveland, a non-profit dedicated to increasing safety and providing developmental opportunities through collaborative initiatives.

Police Assistance Referral gives CMHA officers another tool, and the family they're dealing with options. Recognizing the long-term effects violence has on children and families, CMHA police connect them with FrontLine Service (formerly Mental Health Services).

Frontline contacts the family within 24 hours of the event to provide consultation, information and ongoing support for those who want it, working with adults and children to overcome trauma as well as connect them to other appropriate agencies and services.

“This is something that reaches out to families,” said CMHA Officer Larry Jones, a 22-year veteran. “We usually we respond to a call and there’s violence, tears. Then I’d go back, I’d go back, it was a continuing cycle of violence.

“Today, it’s very rare I go back to the same house.”

Jones and other CMHA officers credit PAR with improving overall police-citizen interaction by adding a dimension to the police call that hadn’t been there before.

“Now, the children and the rest of the family see us holding a long conversation with their mom or dad, they see that they’re comfortable talking to us - that it’s OK,” said Jones.

Twenty percent of the families referred participate in on-going services through FrontLine and other providers.

The Police Assistance Referral is a joint collaborative of the CMHA Police Department, Partnership for a Safer Cleveland, FrontLine, and Case Western Reserve University’s Begun Center for Violence Prevention, Research and Education. Foundations, including the Cleveland Foundation, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, and St. Luke’s Foundation, have financially supported the initiative.

CWRU Professor Mark Singer, with the Begun Center, said studies of the program show that one-third of the CMHA residents involved have a better opinion of the police. Singer said citizens improved perceptions of police departments is rare nationally. Singer credits the hard work of the CMHA police.

“Violence is a public health issue,” said CMHA Police Chief Andres Gonzalez. “It affects us all.”

Gonzalez said the Police Assistance Referral is “how we police at CMHA.”  

Joan Mazzolini

Joan Mazzolini is a communications officer for the Sisters of Charity foundation.

Volume 3, Issue 12, Posted 2:04 PM, 12.05.2013