Cleveland Police Department comes under fire from Federal agencies for delays in use of force reform

Posted at 4:53 PM, Nov 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-12 16:53:10-05

Cleveland's inability to create policy manuals for investigating and reviewing non-criminal allegations of police misconduct has delayed progress for some provisions of a court-ordered consent decree to reform the city's police department, said the head of a team overseeing the agreement.

"If there are delays in one area, it sends ripples across others and the project overall," said Matthew Barge, the independent monitor who leads a team of law enforcement experts and answers to U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr.

The manuals are for two civilian-run agencies, the Office of Professional Standards, which investigates citizen complaints about police misconduct, and the Police Review Board, which reviews those investigations and recommends officer discipline to the Cleveland police chief. The first-year monitoring plan called for completed standards manuals to be submitted to Oliver for his approval by June 30, a deadline pushed back to the end of this month.

Barge said three members of the monitoring team have worked full-time since May creating the manuals for the city. Work on areas such as accountability, community policing and data analysis have been delayed because of the Office of Professional Standards problems and are just getting started, Barge said.

The city of Cleveland did not respond to a request for comment.

Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice reached a formal agreement in May 2015 to seek a court-ordered consent decree after a DOJ investigation found a pattern and practice of Cleveland officers using excessive force and violating people's civil rights. The monitoring team — Police Assessment Resource Center — headed by Barge was hired by Cleveland in October 2015 to oversee implementation of the agreement.

The DOJ investigation also found deficiencies in how the Office of Professional Standards investigates citizen complaints. The DOJ concluded that the Office of Professional Standards "falls woefully short of meeting its obligations to ensure officer accountability and promote community trust."

The first six-month progress report issued by the monitoring team in June said a 14-page draft for the Office of Professional Standards operations manual "was deficient in every regard." The manual was supposed to include detailed procedures about how the unit investigates complaints, writes reports and gathers evidence.

The progress report also noted that longstanding problems with the Office of Professional Standards continued to persist and found more than 200 investigations remaining open from both 2014 and 2015. The reported noted that after the backlog of cases was found, the Office of Professional Standards and the Police Review Board cleared more than 120 of the cases from 2014 in a matter of weeks, which Barge said raised questions about the quality of those investigations.

The Police Review Board was largely spared criticism in the report because its performance is limited by the ability of the standards office to provide it with investigations to review. Barge said the review board needs administrative staff and more resources to operate efficiently.

It's vital for not only citizens with grievances but the officers themselves for the standards office to thoroughly investigate complaints as quickly as possible, Barge said.

"One common refrain you hear from officers is, 'We don't know what's going to happen and the process is cooked from the start,'" Barge said. "There's a sense they don't what to expect when we talk about misconduct and discipline."

Problems with the standards board are not the cause for a delay in training officers on a revised use of force policy, Barge said. Plans had called for that training to be completed by the end of this year. Training will instead start sometime in the first three months of 2017 as the police department makes improvements to and expands the capacity for training.