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From the 216

How we know Bratenahl has a race problem

by Cid Standifer

For years, Black residents of Cleveland’s East Side felt that driving through the predominantly White village of Bratenahl was a bad idea.

Last week, after The Marshall Project reported that Bratenahl police disproportionately ticketed Black drivers, a range of responses bounced through social media. Some condemned the department’s practices and encouraged soul-searching by city officials. Others declared that anyone stopped by police must have deserved it. But many posted some variation of @Darden216’s summation: “Not shocked at all.”

As journalists, we often hear about situations where our gut tells us a group is being targeted or treated unfairly. The challenge is proving it.

To make the case that the Bratenahl Police Department is targeting Black drivers from outside the village, we first requested data from all the stops made by Bratenahl cops between the start of 2020 and Sept. 15, 2022.

The data showed that when race was recorded during a stop, Black drivers outnumbered any other race. Unfortunately, about half of them didn’t have any race listed at all. Police officers just hadn’t written it down, even though a standard approved under former Gov. John Kasich requires that Ohio law enforcement departments record the race and gender of drivers pulled over in traffic stops in order to receive a voluntary state certification.
A bar graph titled "How Bratenahl police listed race in 4,048 stops." Text below it reads "Officers did not record race in 45% of all traffic stops between January 2020 and Sept. 15, 2022." The longest bar on the graph shows that 1,834 records had race left blank; 1,385 had a race marked "Black," 762 had race marked as "White," and 67 were marked other or unknown.
With so much missing data, could we say that most of the drivers pulled over by police in Bratenahl — a village that is 74% White — were Black? To make sure that was a fair statement, we modeled out what the breakdown would look like by filling in missing records. We found that in the past year, even if 74% of the drivers where race was left blank turned out to be White, about half of the people stopped overall would be Black.

The problem with the records about traffic stops is they include few details about the driver, like their home address. But we were able to analyze data about tickets that had addresses, but no race data. The ticket data shows that, over the same time period covered by the traffic stop data, only seven out of 1,006 tickets issued by the city went to drivers with addresses inside Bratenahl. 

Almost 96% had addresses in Ohio, and most came from places right outside Bratenahl.  Almost half came from Cleveland, with Glenville making up the lion’s share. Glenville, as Clevelanders know, is a formerly redlined neighborhood where the population is almost entirely Black, and it shares a boundary with Bratenahl. There were also sizable contingents from the North Shore Collinwood and South Collinwood neighborhoods, as well as the neighboring municipality of Euclid, all of which are majority-Black.
A map of the greater Cleveland area including Bratenahl is shown. Text reads "Nearly all traffic tickets issued by the Bratenahl Police between Jan 1 and Sept 15, 2022 cited drivers who live outside the village. About one third came from three majority-Black Cleveland neighborhoods (Glenville, North Shore Collinwood and Collinwood-Nottingham), along with the city of Euclid. Almost half of all drivers provided a home address in Cleveland proper." Dots on the map show where drivers ticketed by Bratenahl live; only one dot, representing, 9 people, is inside Bratenahl village; the rest of many dots are in the surrounding areas, including Cleveland and Euclid.
The most important step of our investigation, of course, involved putting shoe leather on pavement. Mark Puente and Stan Donaldson went to the Bratenahl Mayor’s Court — despite threats from city officials — to talk to people who had been pulled over and were there to pay or fight traffic tickets. Sure enough, out of 26 drivers with hearings that day, 21 of them were Black.
If you want an even deeper dive into our methodology, see our data and code.

Slow walking the police commission

Last year, Cleveland voters approved Issue 24, which called for a new 13-member Community Police Commission to oversee officer discipline, policies and training. The commission replaces a similar body that was created in 2015 as part of Cleveland’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. That commission had a more advisory role and sometimes clashed with department brass over access to information. 

Cleveland started accepting applications for the new commission in April, and the mayor’s office and Cleveland City Council have been vetting candidates in public interviews. Some candidates and folks who supported the ballot initiative are frustrated with the slow progress. Five residents made public comments on the delays at a Cleveland City Council meeting on Nov. 14. Two more commenters urged council to speed up the process on Nov. 21.

Alana Garrett-Ferguson, one of Mayor Justin Bibb’s nominees to the commission, lives in the city’s Hough neighborhood. She told council members that it wasn’t fair to residents that the process was dragging on. 

“The longer in which we are taking time to belabor this, we are allowing the residents of Cleveland the opportunity to, unfortunately, not have faith in democracy. And not have faith in us, because this is something that the citizens of Cleveland did vote for, and this is very important.”
Listen to Garrett-Ferguson's full comment here
After the comments, Cleveland City Council set a meeting of its Mayor’s Appointments Committee. Today, it is set to interview the 10 remaining nominees.

Answering Your Questions About the Cleveland Courts

When The Marshall Project created Testify FAQ earlier this year, we were looking to share insights from tens of thousands of court records by answering questions directly from community members. So far, we’ve tackled about a dozen questions. Early on, we learned one lesson — never assume a question is easy to answer.
How old are defendants when criminal cases are filed against them?
Our Testify team has gotten questions about children transferred from the county’s juvenile court to its adult court, a process called a bindover. Most cases filed in the court between 2016 and 2021 involved defendants who were between 25 and 34.
A bar graph labeled "age ranges of case defendants." The first bar, representing ages 15-24, shows 17,453 cases; the second and highest bar, representing ages 25-34, shows 24,841 cases; the third bar, representing ages 35-44, shows 14,587 cases. The bar representing ages 45-54 shows 7,646 cases; the bar representing ages 55-64 shows 3,636 cases; the bar representing age 65+ shows 678 cases.
Felony cases filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas from 2016 through 2021 were most often against people who were between the ages of 25 and 34 years old at time the court case started. This includes people who had multiple cases filed against them in those years.

An important insight: authorities filed five times the criminal cases against young Black defendants (aged 14 through 24) when compared to young White defendants.
You can ask us a question about Cuyahoga County courts anytime here. If we can answer it, we will.

Around the 216

  • Co-Response? Care Response? Cleveland is expanding its crisis response for residents who are experiencing a mental health crisis. The city recently invested $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to double the number of teams of trained caseworkers and officers to respond to calls about people with mental health or behavioral issues. Community members are also pushing for a non-police response. Signal Cleveland’s Stephanie Casanova explains the two models.
  • The community members of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Conviction Integrity Unit have quit, saying the unit’s work is only “window dressing.” In a resignation letter to prosecutor Michael O’Malley, the Conviction Integrity Unit said it is not doing what it was created to accomplish. They met several times with O’Malley to discuss their concerns: asking for more transparency from the prosecutor’s office, and a bigger role in which cases get reviewed. In a statement, the prosecutor's office said it remains committed to the Conviction Integrity Unit, but that the external review panel “has been damaging to the efforts of the Conviction Integrity Unit and to the victims of crime” and was told its role would change, or it would have to disband. [Ideastream Public Media]
  • Greater Cleveland Congregations is holding a public meeting on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. about the high number of children transferred to adult court from Cuyahoga County. Experts and family members will speak. Sign up to join the event in person or virtually via Zoom.
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