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New use of force policy unveiled for Cleveland police

Posted: 5:23 PM, Sep 08, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-09 13:34:50Z

The Cleveland Police Monitoring Team, charged with overseeing massive reforms to the Cleveland Division of Police, unveiled its proposed new use of force policy Thursday.

The City of Cleveland was required to create a new use of force policy as part of the consent decree the city signed with the U.S Department of Justice last year after a 2014 investigation found Cleveland police engage in a pattern and practice of excessive force and violating people's civil rights.

The proposal comes after two high-profile cases in which Cleveland police officers were involved in fatal shootings. The most recent of which resulted in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. 

Tamir was shot by patrolman Timothy Loehmann within two seconds of a police cruiser skidding to a stop near him outside a recreation center where he had been seen playing with the pellet gun in November 2014. Loehmann and partner Frank Garmback, who drove the cruiser, were criticized for not stopping sooner, which might have given them time to assess the situation first. They were responding to a report about a man waving a gun and pointing it at people, but they weren't told the caller had said the man was likely a juvenile and the gun likely wasn't real.

Loehmann and Garmback were cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Cleveland agreed this year to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Tamir's family for $6 million.

Matthew Barge, the court-appointed monitor leading the team, said the new use of force policy is "a critical milestone."

"This is the rules of the road with respect to officers policing on the streets of Cleveland," he said.

“Necessary” and “Proportional”

The new policy is more comprehensive, more detailed, and “stricter” than the city’s current policy.

"The force policy that was on the books. It was a little unclear and a little jumbled," said Barge.

For example, the current policy say only that use of force must be “objectively reasonable.”

The proposed new policy would require use of force also be “necessary” and “proportional” to the threat facing the officer.

The proposal also defines when officers are not allowed to use force.

It says force cannot be used against someone who is already handcuffed, has only verbally confronted officers, or against persons who did not impede a legitimate law enforcement function.

The proposal also says officers cannot use retaliatory force, head strikes with hard objects, or neck holds.

Matthew Barge said officers would also be required to intervene if they believe their fellow officers are violating the policy.

Deadly Force

The proposed policy also places additional restrictions on the use of deadly force.

One example: Officers are now prohibited from reaching into or putting themselves into the path of a vehicle.

According to an outline of the proposal, this would “avoid creating risks of harm that officers may then need to use deadly force to resolve.”

Officers would also be required to use de-escalation techniques before using force.

The policy suggests several tactics, including creating distance between the officer and the threat.

If an officer does use force, the policy said they would now have a duty to provide first aid to anyone injury after a use of force.

They must also request immediate medical attention in certain circumstance, even if there are no obvious injuries, such as a use of force against a child.

Non-Lethal Force

The proposed policy also gives officers specific instructions about when they can use less lethal force, including detailed instruction on the appropriate use of Tasers, batons, pepper spray (OC spray), and beanbag shotguns.

For example, a Taser cannot be used on anyone who is handcuffed, pregnant, children, elderly, or has low body mass.

Opportunity to Comment

Barge said the team is eagerly soliciting community feedback on the new policy.

"What we are doing now in Cleveland really is unprecedented," said Barge.

He said it is unusual for police departments to allow so many stakeholders, including police officers and ordinary citizens, to take part in developing a new use of force policy.

To encourage feedback, the monitoring team put together a 9-minute video, a policy fact sheet, and a summary of key changes on its website to educate the public about the proposed new use of force policy.

Watch the video here: www.clevelandpolicemonitor.com/use-of-force

To contribute feedback online, click here:  http://www.clevelandpolicemonitor.net/use-of-force-feedback

City leaders, members of the Cleveland Division of Police, Community Police Commission, and the Department of Justice will also hold two community roundtables on the proposal.

During each event, the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team will provide an overview of the new policy. Participants will then be given an opportunity to interact with community leaders.

The roundtables are scheduled for the following dates:

Roundtable 1: Thursday, September 15, 5:30-8:30pm at the Jerry Sue Thornton Center (2500 East 22nd St., Cleveland, OH 44115)

Roundtable 2: Tuesday, September 20, 5:30-8:30pm at Urban Community School (4909 Lorain Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102)

After reviewing community feedback, the team will continue to work on the policy.

Every Cleveland police officers will then undergo training to put the policy into practice.

Barge said he expects the new policy to be put in place by January 1, 2017.