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."