On the same day that clergy from about 40 churches marched through downtown Cleveland to protest the acquittal of a white police officer charged in the deaths of two unarmed black motorists in 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with the city and its police department, following a deeply critical investigation that found an unconstitutional “pattern or practice of the use of excessive force.”
The 105-page settlement avoids a potential lawsuit by the Justice Department after its two-year investigation found Cleveland police were too quick to pull their guns, often escalating situations; failed to thoroughly investigate and discipline officers accused of using excessive force; and had caused an erosion of community trust.
“This is a step forward, but this is truly only the beginning. To change the culture of the police force, which has been engaged in unfair and unjust treatment of people of color for so long, will not happen overnight.”
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Announced at a news conference on Tuesday, the deal was hailed by Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio, as “a historic agreement that will transform the way the city of Cleveland is policed for years and years to come.”
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the agreement—which must now be approved by a federal judge—”goes beyond correcting the Justice Department’s complaints and includes extensive data collection meant to curtail racial profiling. The Justice Department and the city reached the agreement after five months of negotiations, with input from rank-and-file police, union officials and citizen groups.”
The Plain Dealer additionally reports:
Furthermore, “a fundamental goal of the revised use of force policy will be to account for, review, and investigate every reportable use of force,” the agreement reads.
Whereas “Cleveland officers tend to be awfully sparse with the details they provide,” as the Plain Dealer reports, “[t]he consent decree aims to change this ingrained part of police culture.”
According to the news outlet, “the new policy will explicitly prohibit the use of … ‘boilerplate’ or ‘canned’ language. Clichés such as ‘furtive movement’ or ‘fighting stance’ are singled out in ignominy.”
Together, the DOJ and the city will reportedly hire an independent monitor to oversee the implementation of reforms.
The New York Times points out that “many of the elements in the Cleveland settlement—improved training, better internal oversight and an independent monitor — have become standard,” as the DOJ, under the Obama administration, has opened nearly two dozen civil rights investigations into the practices of police departments.
Civil rights investigators recently announced that they would open a similar investigation in Baltimore after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died of injuries he suffered while in police custody. The Justice Department is also negotiating a settlement with city officials in Ferguson, Mo., which erupted in protests over the police shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.
The DOJ’s investigation began in March 2013, months after Cleveland police officers fired 137 bullets at two unarmed individuals—Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell—in November 2012. A judge on Saturday found Officer Michael Brelo not guilty of manslaughter in that case, though evidence showed that he climbed on the hood of the victims’ car after a chase and repeatedly fired at the unarmed occupants.
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