Here's How Citizen Complaints Will Be Reviewed Under the Proposed New Cleveland Police Policies

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Nov. 29, 2016)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Newly drafted guidelines designed to overhaul how Cleveland investigates and adjudicates citizen complaints against police will give the city a good start on fixing a system in which many residents long ago lost faith, the police monitor wrote Tuesday.

It won't fix everything, though, as there are still certain challenges because of union contracts, disagreements on legal interpretations and the city's past handling of complaints.

The manuals for the Office of Professional Standards and the Civilian Police Review Board, submitted Tuesday for a federal judge's approval, are the result of a year of work and are aimed at fixing one of the biggest problems the U.S. Justice Department found with Cleveland police.

The depth of the problems became clear when the monitoring team, which is mandated through a settlement the city reached with the Justice Department, started investigating the backlog of unfinished complaint investigations. Office of Professional Standards employees asked to explain procedures would often respond with "I don't know, there's never been a rule, never been a standard way of doing this," head monitor Matthew Barge said in an interview.

"Which means this covers a lot of ground that's never been covered before," Barge said, referring to the proposed manuals.

The monitoring team repeatedly points out in its motion to the judge that the city has a long way to go with its grievance-investigation process. The language is stern and the monitor takes great pains to detail the laborious steps the team and the city took to draft the policies, since the city's draft submissions often did not pass muster.

However, the motion says, the manuals "represent an important milestone in re-establishing trust among CPD personnel and community members alike in Cleveland's internal and administrative treatment of civilian complaints about the police."

Here is a breakdown of the major components of the complaint-investigation process, and some lingering problems.

Complaint intake

The new Office of Professional Standards manual requires every contact with a complainant at the beginning of an investigative process to be documented, assigned a tracking number and reviewed, regardless of whether a formal investigation results.

The settlement mandates that the city accept complaints in a variety of ways -- online, by phone, with or without a signature or anonymously.

However, the current contract between the city and the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association says "[a]ll complaints filed by a citizen against [officers] shall be submitted by the complainant in his or her own handwriting," according to the motion.

The contract language also means that anonymous complaints may not result in discipline. The monitor insists that anonymous complaints are necessary and says the union contract provision may discriminate against people with disabilities who are unable to sign their names.

The monitor expects the city and union to "work expeditiously to ensure that the provisions of the Consent Decree, generally-accepted practice, and compliance with the (Americans with Disabilities Act) and equivalent Ohio state law are harmonized with the CPPA Contract," the motion says.


The Office of Professional Standards will assign all complaints to a "standard" or "complex" track, as well as to a category, such as "biased policing or "harassment." Within three business days, the intake coordinator must forward the complaint to the administrator for review, and the administrator will assign the complaint to an investigator within 24 hours of receipt.

All "standard" investigations must be completed within 45 days, while "complex" cases must be finished within 75 days.

After an investigation is completed, it must be forwarded to the Police Review Board for consideration no later than two regularly-scheduled meetings after the investigation is completed.

Administrator's review

The Office of Professional Standards' administrator must review all completed investigations and make a final recommendation by using a "preponderance of the evidence" standard, meaning the infraction more likely than not occurred.

In "limited instances," the administrator may dismiss a complaint without a full investigation, the motion says.

The administrator shall not make any disciplinary recommendation. After a review, the administrator will then tell the complainant that the investigation has been completed and the Police Review Board will hear the matter.

Police Review Board makeup and expectations

The manual for the Civilian Police Review Board codifies what Cleveland voters passed in a ballot measure earlier this month to change the board's makeup. The board will now have nine members instead of seven, and include one member from each of the city's five police districts. One of the members would have to be between ages 18 and 30.

The Cleveland City Council will decide next week whether to place a measure on the November ballot that could change the makeup of a civilian board that is supposed to review use-of-force allegations made against police officers.

"The Monitoring Team will expect that Board members indeed 'use best efforts to attend all regularly-scheduled Board meetings,'" the motion says. "The Manual indicates that Board members 'shall receive compensation as may be established by the Council.'"

All board meetings are to be open to the public.

The board's manual says the board may, when discussing certain types of investigations, do so with a three-member panel. These could include issues such as bad demeanor, rudeness or a vehicle towed improperly.

The board is not bound by the Office of Professional Standards administrator's recommendations. It must write summaries for each adjudicated complaint.

If the board says an investigation warrants discipline, it will forward that decision to the police chief or the public safety director.

Police Review Board's authority

Under the guidelines, the Police Review Board may recommend suspensions. If the recommended suspension is 10 days or less, it goes to the police chief. If it is more than 10 days, the chief will also have to forward it to the public safety director for a final decision.

The motion notes a dispute the city and the monitoring team have over where authority lies on disciplining officers, and how those decisions can be overridden.

The monitoring team believes the city's charter allows the board to override a chief's suspension decision with enough votes. The city believes the board must send its overriding decision to the public safety director for a hearing and final decision, even if it is for a suspension lasting 10 days or less.

Seattle Police Steadily Increasing Diversity of Force With New Hires

Seattle's The Stranger newspaper reports that:

Under the leadership of chief Kathleen O'Toole, the Seattle Police Department is steadily increasing the diversity of its approximately 1,200-member force by hiring more minority officers. In 2016, the proportion of nonwhite officers joining the SPD has jumped to 35 percent, up ten points over two years, according to a recent department report.

Read the full story here.

Cleveland Police Monitor Unveils Proposed Crisis Intervention Policies

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Nov. 28, 2016)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland police monitor on Monday unveiled new policies designed to dictate how officers respond to mental health emergencies, in response to a Justice Department investigation that called for better training in the handling of residents in crisis.

The new policies, presented to the public in a draft form, are designed to give officers clear guidance on how to respond to those in a mental health crisis. This includes how to deal with an individual and who to call for additional assistance.

The policies say officers with specialized training in crisis intervention will be called to many scenes where an individual is having a mental-health issue. Officers on scene must take as many steps as possible to minimize a threat an individual poses before using force, and they must try to get a person help if necessary.

The proposal also says officers must "use discretion to direct individuals in crisis to the health care system, rather than the criminal justice system, in those instances where it is appropriate to do so."

The new policies were mandated in a settlement the Justice Department reached with the city that found many problems with the ways officers interact with individuals.

Like the city's new use-of-force policies, which were recently presented to a federal judge for approval, the new crisis-intervention policies were drafted in response to a number of incidents in which the Justice Department said officers reacted poorly.

They were drafted with help from the Justice Department and the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee.

A judge still must approve the policies.

The new policies say dispatchers shall send a specialized crisis intervention officer. It says such calls take high priority. If a crisis intervention team officer is on a less important call, the officer shall leave and go to the mental health call.

Once there, officers must assess the risk and determine if others are needed. They must also consider factors such as whether drugs and alcohol are involved, any disabilities and whether the person speaks English. If a family member is on scene, they must determine whether the family member can help, the policies say.

The crisis intervention officers must introduce themselves as such and keep the individual informed of all the steps they will take to address the situation. This could be charging them with a crime or taking them to a hospital or facility.

According to the policies, only one officer should speak as to not confuse the individual. The officer must speak in a "slow, calm, non-threatening voice and use non-intimidating body language."

After the individual says what is wrong, the officer must respond by paraphrasing what was just said.

The officer must "demonstrate empathy, concern, and a better understanding of the situation. The officer must repeat instructions in a simple way, the policies state.

In order to de-escalate any threat, the officer can use a variety of tactics, such as waiting until threatening actions have stopped, move slowly, remove "upsetting influence and disruptive citizens from the scene." The officers must take their time and avoid physical confrontations when at all possible.

If officers need to use force, it must be proportion to the level of resistance and reasonable given to all of the circumstances. This includes handcuffing the suspect.

If a person is lying down after being cuffed, the person must be sat or stood up to avoid asphyxiations, the policies state.

"Force is NOT to be used for expediency," the policies say.

The policies also lays out what resources are available to help them and how to transport mentally ill individuals in a variety of situations.

The Mental Health Response Advisory Committee will host two community meetings Dec. 13 to hear feedback. They will be at 1 p.m. at Murtis Taylor Community Center, 13422 Kinsman Road, and at 6 p.m. at Urban Community School, 4909 Lorain Ave.

After 4 Years of Seattle Police Reform, Could Trump ‘Let It All Die’?

Donald Trump’s stances on law enforcement have sparked concern that the Justice Department, under his presidency, won’t pursue police-reform efforts that have been a hallmark of the Obama administration.

By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times (Nov. 21, 2016)

Donald Trump’s election as president won’t upend the consent decree requiring the Seattle Police Department to adopt reforms to address excessive force and biased policing, according to the federal monitor overseeing the agreement between the city and U.S. Justice Department.

“I don’t expect the change of administration will have a material impact on the full implementation of the consent decree,” Merrick Bobb, who was appointed by U.S. District Judge James Robart to work with the city and Justice Department in carrying out the 2012 agreement, told The Seattle Times.

Trump’s pre-election stance that there has been a war on police and his campaign’s statement that the federal government shouldn’t dictate policy to local or state law enforcement has prompted concern that the Justice Department, under his presidency, won’t pursue the reform efforts that have been a hallmark of the Obama administration.

Under this thinking, the Trump-led Justice Department not only may be resistant to new enforcement, it might scuttle the agreements in Seattle and other cities around the country.

“The consent-decree agreements already in place — they could just choose not to enforce. They can let it all die by doing nothing,” former Justice Department attorney Jonathan Smith told The Washington Post after the election.

Under Obama, Smith oversaw a ramped-up effort to hold police accountable while serving for 4½ years as chief of the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In Seattle, he played a direct role in negotiating the hard-fought agreement with then-Mayor Mike McGinn.

Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is expected to bring a conservative voice to the Justice Department. Sessions has previously said the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division “provides tremendous benefit to American citizens” but should not be used as “a sword to assert inappropriate claims that have the effect of promoting political agendas.”

Yet Seattle’s consent decree is under the firm control of Robart, who, time and again, has demonstrated his full commitment to the reforms, even drawing national attention with his declaration during an August court hearing that “black lives matter.”

The decree contains hurdles preventing the Justice Department from “unilateral disarmament,” said a source close to department, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the decree, a provision states: “No change, modification, or amendment to the Settlement Agreement will have any force or effect if not set forth in writing, signed by all the Parties to the Settlement Agreement, and approved by the Court.”

Once Robart approved the consent decree, it became an order of the court, said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, and the Justice Department can’t say “never mind.”

“It’s locked down in front of a judge,” Holmes said.

With that, Robart can enforce the decree, including using his contempt-of-court authority, Holmes said.

Beyond the legal underpinnings, the city, under Mayor Ed Murray and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, have made reform a top priority.

“We are on the road to reform,” O’Toole said after a postelection news conference with the mayor. “We have our road map, our consent decree. We’ll continue to work with many of the same people in the Department of Justice. So none of the political developments will deter us. We’re moving full speed ahead with the plan.”

Seattle’s consent decree stemmed from a 2011 Justice Department report that found Seattle police officers too often resorted to force and engaged in “troubling practices” of discriminatory policing that could have a disproportionate impact on minority communities.

Under Obama, the Justice Department began investigations into 23 law-enforcement agencies and entered 11 consent decrees, compared with 20 investigations and three decrees under his predecessor, President George W. Bush, according to The Marshall Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization focused on the U.S. criminal-justice system.

Decrees already in place may continue despite a pullback, William Yeomans, a former senior official with the Civil Rights Division, told The Marshall Project, because “once a decree has been entered in court, the court has power to make sure it’s enforced.”

But the Justice Department could choose to either drop or drastically reduce the scope of investigations still under way in Baltimore and Chicago, Yeomans said.

Seattle can “take heart” in the fact it reached its agreement during the Obama administration, Holmes said.

Although the consent decree stemmed from an adversarial legal process, Holmes said, the relationship between the city and Justice Department has been “very much a partnership.”

The question now is whether that will change under Trump, Holmes said.

Seattle has adopted sweeping changes, including new policies and training covering use of force, biased policing, crisis intervention and de-escalating confrontations.

In September, Bobb, the federal monitor, found Seattle police had made “significant progress” in the past year in complying with many aspects of the consent decree. And for the first time, he provided a potential time frame for the city to reach full compliance: fall 2017.

“It has been a prodigious effort to come this far, and the distance traveled now exceeds the distance that remains,” Bobb wrote of the city’s efforts.

In the coming months, key assessments by Bobb’s monitoring team will shed further light on where the city is headed.

When full compliance is reached, the city and Police Department then must maintain it for two years in order to dissolve the consent decree, Bobb wrote.

Revised Use-of-Force Policies Submitted for Cleveland Police

By Mark Gillispie, Associated Press (Nov. 16, 2016)

Cleveland police officers will be required to try using de-escalation techniques such as taking cover as part of a revised use-of-force policy submitted to a federal judge Wednesday in an agreement over reforming the department.

The techniques are intended to help officers avoid having to apply lethal or nonlethal force. The policy also mandates that more stringent reporting requirements be met when force is used.

Changing how Cleveland police officers use force is a key element in an agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice. The sides agreed to a court-monitored consent decree in May 2015 after a DOJ investigation found a pattern and practice of officers using excessive force and violating people's civil rights.

U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. will decide whether the new policies comply with requirements in the consent decree. If the policies are approved, officers are expected to begin training on them early next year. It's not clear when Oliver will rule.

The idea of taking cover is something that might have saved the life of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy shot by a white officer within two seconds of a cruiser skidding to a stop next to him outside a Cleveland recreation center. Tamir had a replica Airsoft-type gun that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets.

Rookie Patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who shot Tamir in November 2014, and his partner, Patrolman Frank Garmback, were criticized for not stopping their cruiser sooner, which might have given them time to assess the situation. The officers 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.

The proposed rules were written by Cleveland officials after seeking input from the public, an oversight panel called the Community Police Commission, officers and the independent monitoring team working with the city to implement the numerous reforms required by the consent decree.

Under current policy, officers can employ force, including using firearms, if they determine it's "objectively reasonable" to do so, meaning it's an action an average officer would take given the situation. The proposed new policy says force must be necessary and "proportional" to the threat an officer faces.

The new policies also require officers to give first aid to people who are injured. Loehmann and Garmback were criticized for not providing first aid to Tamir after the shooting. An FBIagent and trained paramedic who arrived about four minutes later was the first person to tend to Tamir.

The DOJ investigation that led to the consent decree chronicled instances of Cleveland police officers using their handguns and other weapons to hit suspects in the head, using stun guns on people in handcuffs, shooting at people who weren't a threat to officers or the public, and shooting at moving vehicles. The DOJ noted that it previously investigated excessive force in 2002 that led to a new use-of-force policy two years later.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams, in a statement Wednesday, lauded the progress the city has made in developing new rules over use of force.

"These new policies are just one part of the reform process that I have promised to the citizens of Cleveland," Jackson said.

Williams said the policies are steps toward making Cleveland a model police department that "will provide our officers with greater clarity in difficult situations and will hopefully lead to better understanding between the division (of police) and the community."

Cleveland Consent Decree Monitor Expects No Major Impact From a Trump Presidency

President-elect Donald Trump’s“tough on crime” stance has raised questions about how far federal consent decrees for police reform can go. The head of the  Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association tells it is looking into possible adjustments to the city’s agreement with the Justice Department. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports on what the Trump presidency could mean. 

Cleveland consent decree monitor Matthew Barge says these agreements can take years to implement, so their evolution may span different political administrations. He says police consent decrees began in 1994 under President Bill Clinton, and some changes came under President George W. Bush after 9/11.

“What you see just by the numbers is that there was a decrease over time in the number of new investigations of police departments that were initiated. But it wasn’t as though the consent decrees that were on the books when that administration came on board immediately stopped. They continued to run until the judges and respective jurisdictions determined that here had been sufficient compliance with the decree.”

Barge says because consent decrees are federal court orders, wholesale changes are unlikely.

Hear the story here.

PARC's Matthew Barge Discusses Consent Decree Progress at City Club of Cleveland

PARC's Matthew Barge spoke to the City Club of Cleveland on Friday, October 28 to discuss what progress as been made and what reforms still need to be enacted in regards to the Cleveland consent decree.  Barge is the monitor overseeing a Consent Decree and a 20-member PARC Team.

You can watch and listen to the remarks here.

Approval Rating of Seattle Police Reaches New High in Latest Independent Survey

“The most dramatic this year was among African Americans, who today view the SPD better than whites did three years ago,” according to a survey commissioned by the federal monitor overseeing court-ordered reforms.

By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times (Oct. 24, 2016)

Public approval of the Seattle Police Department has reached a new high in the fourth year of federally mandated reforms, notably among African Americans, according to a new survey.

Overall, 72 percent of Seattle residents approve of the department’s performance in 2016, compared with 60 percent in 2013, the first full year after the city entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to address excessive force and biased policing. In 2015, the number was 64 percent.

The random survey, filed Monday with U.S. District Judge James Robart, was the third to be commissioned by federal monitor Merrick Bobb, who is overseeing the court-ordered reforms.

Conducted by a public opinion research firm between Sept. 21 and Oct. 2, it involved 700 cellphone and landline telephone interviews of adults, along with an additional 105 African Americans and 95 Latinos. It wasn’t immediately clear how the additional interviews were conducted.

It comes on the heels of a September progress report from Bobb, who found Seattle police have made “significant progress” over the past year in complying with the consent decree and, for the first time, provided a potential time frame for the city to reach full compliance in fall 2017.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, in a statement Monday, said the survey “underscores the progress being made by the Seattle Police Department in addressing the gulf that exists between officers and the communities they serve.” He pledged to continue the work, citing the city’s recent proposal to bolster police-accountability and civilian oversight.

According to the survey, the 2016 approval rate among African Americans was 62 percent, compared to 48 percent in 2015 and 49 percent in 2013. For Latinos, the rate has grown from 54 percent in 2013, to 65 percent in 2015 and to 74 percent in 2016.

“The most dramatic this year was among African Americans, who today view the SPD better than whites did three years ago,” the survey found, adding that Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s approval rate also continues to rise, from 61 last year to 66 percent this year.

“Nothing is more important than community trust,” O’Toole said in a statement Monday in which she noted the “exciting progress” affirmed in the survey and called the results a testament to the department’s employees and a community “willing to partner with us moving forward.”

Disapproval of the department has gone down during the three survey periods, from 34 percent in 2013 to 25 percent in 2015 to 20 percent in 2016, with similar trends across racial and other demographic lines.

Fewer people who were stopped by the SPD reported problems, with 71 percent approving of the way their encounter was handled, compared with 65 percent in 2013 and 70 percent last year, according to the survey.

In the last year, 1 percent of residents said they personally have been victims of excessive force, including less than 1 percent of Latinos and African Americans.

Also in the past year, less than 1 percent of Seattle residents said they were victims of racial profiling, a statistic unchanged from 2015. Three percent of African Americans said they were victims of racial profiling, along with 1 percent of Latinos.

Seventy-six percent of residents reported SPD is keeping them safe, up slightly from 71 percent last year and 74 percent in 2013.

They also are more likely to perceive officers as treating them respectfully than in the past, and less likely than those surveyed in 2013 to perceive that the department uses excessive force, is verbally abusive, engages in racial profiling or uses racial slurs, according to the survey.

“That’s a change from 2015 — in 2015 we had fewer people report being victims of those incidents, but the citywide perception of their frequency hadn’t yet changed,” the researchers found.

Experiences of Latinos and African Americans support public perceptions that SPD treats them worse than others. But the gap is much smaller than in 2013, according to the survey.

The survey cited as “troubling” the number of Asian Americans who know someone who has been a victim of racial profiling. But while the number tied an all-time high, the sample was small, with a plus or minus 10 percent margin of error. Further investigation is needed, the researchers said.

U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes in Seattle lauded the overall findings while saying, “It is important to recognize the continued differences in attitudes and experience that the survey shows in communities of color here in Seattle.”

Asked about body cameras for officers, 92 percent of Seattle residents supported their use, compared with 5 percent who oppose them. The department hopes to equip officers with body cameras next year.

For the entire survey, the expected margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

New York Times Profiles Seattle Body-Worn Camera Implementation

The New York Times Magazine profiled the process of implementing body-worn cameras at the Seattle Police Department (SPD).  As the article describes, PARC's Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing the Consent Decree addressing SPD, has indicated over several semiannual reports that body-worn cameras are necessary to ensure constitutional policing and the long-term efficacy of Consent Decree reforms.

Read the full story here.

PARC's Matthew Barge Speaks at IAPro User's Conference

Matthew Barge, PARC's Co-Executive Director, spoke today at the annual IAPro User's Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  IAPro is a police performance database system manufactured by CI Technologies and used by 650 police agencies worldwide.

Mr. Barge spoke about the ways that agencies can use data on use of force incidents, pedestrian stops, early intervention systems, and other performance-related data to enhance accountability, promote transparency, and ensure constitutional policing.