PARC's Merrick Bobb Presents to National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement

Merrick Bobb, PARC's Co-Executive Director, was a presenter today at the 22nd Annual Conference of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Mr. Bobb discussed his systemic reviews of use-of-force incidents in the context of monitoring a federal Consent Decree involving the Seattle Police Department. Mr. Bobb presented with Philip Eure, Inspector General for the New York Police Department (NYPD); Steven Rosenbaum, Chief of the United States Department of Justice's Special Litigation Section; and Jayson Wechter, Investigator in the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints.

You can read more about NACOLE and the conference here.

Seattle Police Have Made ‘Significant Progress,’ Could Reach Reform Goals by Next Fall, Federal Monitor Says

While significant work and key assessments lie ahead, the Seattle Police Department is on the right track, federal monitor Merrick Bobb wrote in his seventh semiannual report, which was filed Monday.

By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times (Sep. 26, 2016)

Seattle police have made “significant progress” over the past year in complying with many aspects of a consent decree to address excessive force and biased policing, according to the court-appointed monitor overseeing federally mandated reforms.

In a progress report filed Monday, the monitor, Merrick Bobb, for the first time 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 to meet the terms of a 2012 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.

While significant work and key assessments lie ahead, the Seattle Police Department is on the right track, Bobb wrote in his seventh semiannual report.

“Mayor Ed Murray promised nearly three years ago that reform of the SPD was the top priority of his first term,” Bobb wrote. “He has been good to his word and significant credit is due to the Mayor.”

Bobb, a Los Angeles police-accountability consultant, also singled out Murray’s police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, for bringing a “sharp focus” to the reform effort and “building necessary bridges” internally and with outside officials, the monitor’s team and the community. In addition, Bobb praised the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western Washington and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.

He also lauded the department’s rank-and-file for embracing new policies and training, saying it’s become evident that officers understand the consent decree contains best practices and contributes to their effectiveness and safety.

It also appears that “necessary cultural change” has begun to at least some meaningful extent, the report said.

“With diligence and hard work, and in the absence of unforeseen impediments, and if there comes about greater community cooperation and trust, the SPD could well reach full and effective compliance in as little as a year from now … in many, if not all, areas,” Bobb wrote.

If that occurs, it would coincide with Murray’s re-election effort.

While not mentioned in the report, one of the impediments could be the city’s contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG). The union’s membership overwhelmingly rejected a tentative contractthis summer that included, along with wage increases, reforms dealing with the police chief’s authority and disciplinary appeals.

At a court hearing last month, U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over the consent decree, said he would not let SPOG hold the city “hostage” by linking wages to constitutional policing.

Robart has set an Oct. 7 deadline for the city to submit proposed legislation listing police-accountability measures. Already, Robart has called for major changes that would affect the union’s membership: streamlined appeals of officer discipline and internal investigations conducted by civilians rather than sworn officers.

Guild President Kevin Stuckey said after the hearing that the union had received its “marching orders,” but in the September edition of SPOG’s newspaper, The Guardian, the vice president, Sgt. Rich O’Neill, struck a different chord in a front-page article.

Referring to a 2013 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the city on bargaining “mandatory subjects” resulting from the consent decree, O’Neill wrote, “Listening to some involved in this process, they appear to want the city to ignore this MOA and the state law. They want to simply have the changes legislated or ordered.”

O’Neill wrote that “may work in ‘right to work’ states where the employer merely needs to ‘meet and confer’ with the union and then can implement changes. That is not the law in this state!”

O’Neill, who according to sources led opposition to the tentative contract, was a polarizing figure when he served as president of the union from 2006 to 2014. He returned as vice president of the guild over the summer amid a shake-up in SPOG’s leadership.

He has informed the city that he will be the lead negotiator in contract talks and wants the discussion to start from scratch, according to a City Hall source familiar with the matter.

O’Neill and Stuckey couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

In citing progress in the Police Department, Bobb highlighted its notable restraint in using force with people in crisis due to mental illness or drugs.

He also pointed to a reduction in the use of moderate to higher-level use of force, saying this “may signal that officers on the whole are de-escalating more incidents and reserving force for only those instances where it is necessary, proportional, and reasonable” under the circumstances.

At the same time, Bobb wrote, there are areas that need to be evaluated, including the Police Department’s ability to achieve “better and sustained trust” among all the “various and diverse communities” it serves.

“Likewise, there remains some distance to travel to ensure that the requirements of the Consent Decree and the associated cultural change are not fleeting or temporary but are, instead, ‘baked in’ to the fabric of the Department,” the report added.

When full compliance is reached, the city and department then must maintain it during a two-year period in order to dissolve the consent decree, Bobb wrote, while expressing confidence the department is positioned to be a national leader in police reform.

Forum Sheds Light on Cleveland Residents' Lingering Concerns with Police Use of Force

By Jane Morice, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sep. 21, 2016)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Three days after the November 2014 afternoon when a Cleveland police officer shot Tamir Rice, Mayor Frank Jackson, police Chief Calvin Williams and other officials spent hours fielding tense questions and enduring heavy criticism from an angry public.

Close to two years later, the scene at another forum on policing resembled a corporate retreat, where moderators spoke to small groups of Cleveland residents about their current perception of the police department in a city in the throes of police reforms outlined in an agreement with the Justice Department.

For the second time in a week, the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team held a meeting to encourage the community to provide feedback on a proposed use-of-force policy that, if passed by the city council, would represent one of the most dramatic shifts in how police officers deal with the public.

Cleveland Police Monitor Matthew Barge explained to the more than 50 attendees the most significant changes in the proposed policy that would give police officers much clearer standards for when they can use force.

Among those changes include allowing officers to use force only when absolutely necessary; officers must try to exhaust all de-escalation techniques before applying force; officers must provide medical care to people who are injured and officers who see their fellow officers using too much force have a duty to intervene.

Tuesday's meeting came a day after Tulsa, Oklahoma officials released video of a man, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, shot and killed by police there once again thrusting the topics of use-of-force and police reform back into the national spotlight. The residents who attended made their primary concern clear: how will officers be held accountable for use-of-force abuses?

While the monitoring team found that many of the mechanisms used to field community complaints is fundamentally broken, the public has been repeatedly assured that the department is committed to fixing that system.  

At least half of the groups voiced concerns regarding officers' training to de-escalate tense interactions and more effectively communicate – actions for which officers will be held accountable.

The member of one group expressed lingering concerns about how police officers engage with Cleveland residents. She said that it seems like officers approach a situation with too much aggression, and said that she wishes they would "cool off" and "speak softly" when trying to assess a problem.

"Sometimes it makes you wish you didn't call in the first place," another member of her team said.

Williams and U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon attended and spoke at both Thursday's forum at the Jerry Sue Thornton Center at Cuyahoga Community College on the East Side and Tuesday's meeting at the Urban Community School on the West Side. They stressed how important community involvement is to the reform efforts.

"It's all well and good for us to sit in a room and talk about how things should be, and how our department should be a model for the nation. But that doesn't work – it doesn't work in isolation," Rendon said. "We're a community and this is our police department. Unless we know what it is that you want & what you need, what's of concern and interest to the community, then we can't do our jobs effectively."

Williams added to Rendon's comments by encouraging interested residents to take ride-alongs with police officers in order to see how policy is put into action.

"We don't have anything to hide," he said.

The suggestions put forth Tuesday night will be added to those offered at Thursday's meeting, and the monitoring team will adjust the policy in the weeks to come. Monitor Barge emphasized during his initial presentation that the policy is not finalized.

The monitoring team is responsible for piecing together recommendations on future policies, such as how use-of-force incidents will be reported and investigated by the department. Monitoring team members said that similar community input meetings will be held once those pieces of policy are completely drafted.

Residents Offer Input on Proposed Cleveland Police Use-of-Force Policy

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sep. 16, 2016),

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A roundtable discussion held Thursday with residents, Cleveland police and the team monitoring the city's settlement with the U.S. Justice Department showed that all sides may need to make a few tweaks to a proposed use-of-force policy before finalizing it.

The proposed policy would make several key changes to the department's current use-of-force policy. Most importantly, it seeks to better define when it is "objectively reasonable" — a legal standard that means an average officer would have made the same decision — for an officer to use force.

It also says officers must make every effort to de-escalate a situation before using force.

The several dozen at Thursday's meeting offered a variety of suggestions. Monitoring team head Matthew Barge said the policy is not finalized and will likely undergo changes in the coming weeks.

The new policy is mandated through the city's settlement with the Justice Department, known as a consent decree, over police use of force. It is scheduled to be enacted by the end of the year.

Thursday's event at the Jerry Sue Thornton Center at Cuyahoga Community College was set up so that small groups could discuss the policy and then provide feedback on anything missing from the proposal.

The monitoring team also is accepting feedback on the proposed policy on its website. Another discussion event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Urban Community School, 4909 Lorain Ave.

Here are a few takeaways from the meeting:

A couple of tweaks

After the groups heard about the policy, they were tasked with making recommendations on how it could be improved.

The suggestions ranged from trying to ensure that officers were compassionate to taking into consideration medical conditions and whether a person understands the officer before deciding whether to use force.

A few themes arose, though. Several groups said officers should be required to communicate as much as possible with a person in an attempt to de-escalate.

At one table, Dan Carravallah, a third-year law student at Case Western Reserve University, said the policy should say that officers should be required to announce themselves.

When deputy Cleveland Police Chief Joellen O'Neill asked Carravallah whether wearing a uniform, like she was, was enough, Carravallah said that more information is always preferable.

"My feeling is that communication, more information ... is safer for more individuals in that situation," Carravallah said.

Keisha Matthews, a second-year law student at CWRU who was at the same table, talked about the need to address how force can and cannot be used on children.

Those at another table suggested that better measures should be in place to ensure that officers who commit wrongdoing are disciplined.

Answering questions

During Thursday's meeting, Barge laid out the proposed policy and how officers would be held accountable. He, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heyer and city attorney Gary Singletary, also answered questions on the policy and how it would affect residents.

"The use of force is never mandated. It's always situational," Singletary said

Barge said the citizen complaint investigation process, which was criticized in a monitor's report in July and was a discussion topic Thursday, will be addressed after the use-of-force policy and training are complete.

Chief on the goodwill tour

Police Chief Calvin Williams attended the meeting and participated in a discussion group. Like his visibility during the Republican National Convention and at meetings prior to Thursday, Williams continues to try to meet as many people as possible to try to spread a better message about Cleveland police.

His brief remarks at the end of the meeting echoed those efforts. He, along with others, stressed that community feedback and involvement is important so that actual reform takes place.

He also invited those in the crowd to ride along with a patrol officer to see what goes into the day of a cop.

"Take a ride along with us and see how it really is out there," Williams said.

Proposed New Use of Force Policy Unveiled for Cleveland Police

The Cleveland Police Monitoring Team, led by PARC Co-Executive Director Matthew Barge, along with other Consent Decree stakeholders has released proposed new use of force policies for the Cleveland Division of Police for a period of intensive community engagement and feedback.

Learn about the policies at the Monitoring Team's website.

Read news coverage of the proposed new policies here.

Chicago Tribune Consults Co-Executive Director Matthew Barge on Chicago Foot Pursuit & Force Data

A Chicago Tribune analysis of every police shooting from 2010 through 2015 found that foot chases played a role in more than a third of the 235 cases that ended with someone wounded or killed. The Tribune consulted with PARC's Matthew Barge:

Some experts say setting guidelines on foot chases doesn't mean letting criminals run free. In fact, many departments have chosen to implement foot-chase policies to improve officer safety.

"It's a false choice to say an officer has unlimited ability to pursue subjects or we just let the bad guy go," said Matthew Barge, co-executive director of the Police Assessment Resource Center, which has helped craft and monitor policing reforms in cities across the country, including some pushed by the Justice Department.

Read the full article on the Tribune investigation here.

Baltimore Sun Discusses Cleveland & Seattle Monitoring Efforts

An article in the Baltimore Sun addressing possible next steps after the release of an investigation on the Baltimore Police Department discussed ongoing Consent Decree monitoring in the cities of Cleveland and Seattle.  PARC's Matthew Barge is the Monitor in Cleveland.  PARC's Merrick Bobb is the Monitor in Seattle.

Read the article here.