Cleveland to undergo federal police force reforms

Eric Tucker
Associated Press

Cleveland — Cleveland agreed to sweeping changes in how its police officers use force, treat the community and deal with the mentally ill, under a settlement announced Tuesday with the federal government that will put the 1,500-member department under an independent monitor.

The settlement was made public three days after a white Cleveland patrolman was acquitted of manslaughter for his role in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire that left two unarmed black suspects dead in a car in 2012.

Mayor Frank Jackson said the ambitious plan that was worked out over five months of negotiations with the U.S. Justice Department will be expensive and will take years to put in place. But he said he sees it as a chance to set an example.

"As we move forward, it is my strong belief that as other cities across this country address and look at their police issues in their communities, they will be able to say, 'Let's look at Cleveland because Cleveland has done it right,' " he said.

In December, after an 18-month investigation prompted in part by the 2012 shooting, the Justice Department issued a scathing report accusing Cleveland police of a pattern of excessive force and other abuses.

The settlement comes amid tension around the U.S. over a string of cases in which blacks died at the hands of police.

It is an expansive list of items aimed at easing tensions between the Cleveland department and the city's residents, especially in the black community. Cleveland is 53 percent black. About two-thirds of its police officers are white.

The reforms were outlined in a 105-page consent decree filed in federal court. It calls for new guidelines and training in the use of force; a switch to community policing, in which officers work closely with their neighborhoods; an overhaul of the machinery for investigating misconduct allegations; modernization of police computer technology; and new training in avoiding racial stereotyping and dealing with the mentally ill.

The police department's compliance will be overseen by an independent monitor approved by the court.

Several other police departments around the country, including those in Seattle and New Orleans, are operating under federal consent decrees that involve independent oversight.

The worst examples of excessive force in the Justice Department report involved officers who endangered lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hit people over the head with guns and used stun guns on handcuffed suspects. Only six officers had been suspended for improper use of force over a three-year period.

The city is still awaiting a decision on whether any officers will be prosecuted in two other deaths.