By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (June 2, 2016)
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The team monitoring Cleveland's progress in reforming its police department said in a report that the city has made some incremental progress, though most of the substantial court-mandated changes it agreed to are still ahead.
The report released Thursday praises the city's progress in several areas, including its work on crafting a new use-of-force policy, training officers to handle mental health crises and building bridges to better hear community input.
But it is alternately scathing in assessing the department's investigation of citizen complaints and also paints a grim picture of the outdated equipment officers use on a daily basis. It is so bad, the report says, that thousands of police reports have yet to be entered into a software system installed in November.
The city of Cleveland has until June 13 to file its first report and respond to the concerns raised by the monitor team.
Cleveland settled with the U.S. Justice Department in May 2015 after an investigation showed that the city's police officers often used excessive force and lacked even a minimum level of accountability to residents.
The city is currently working its way through meeting goals set out in a first-year plan approved in February by a federal judge.
The 70-page report, the first of many that will be released on a semiannual basis in the coming years, is the first time that monitor Matthew Barge and his team have publicly said where they feel the city is in making court-mandated changes. The team is being paid up to $4.95 million and will monitor the city until a judge says it is fully compliant with the settlement. The process could take at least five years.
The monitoring team's report says that those looking for a report card "will not find them here." The report also does not make mention of how much any of the court-mandated reforms, as well as the problems it found that need fixing, will cost.
Instead, it highlights all of the areas in which work has completed and further effort is necessary.
It says that in the past nine months since Barge and his team were hired, the city and the monitor have spent more time planning to make changes than making the changes themselves.
"Indeed, a number of conversations among the Parties and Monitor have focused on basic project management strategies rather than substantive reform requirements — leading initial feedback to focus on how the City and CPD should approach thinking about structuring major reforms rather than talking about the nature or substance of those Decree requirements," the report says.
The team displays a level of patience for the department that is often lacking with many who have watched and interacted with officers for years.
It notes that the Republican National Convention, now a month and a half away, has taken away time and resources that otherwise would have gone toward departmental reform.
Here are a few areas that the report touches on.
While much of the report displays a sort-of understanding for the department while it implements reforms, that sentiment is not on display when describing the department's Office of Professional Standards.
The office responsible for investigating citizen complaints was pegged as problematic in the Justice Department's 2014 report. The monitoring team is even more concerned than the Justice Department, and the report says the state of the office is "dire."
The report says that as of May, 202 citizen complaints from 2014 were not investigated, as well as 225 from 2015. The report calls this "unacceptable and irresponsible by any measure."
Further, when the office presented the monitor a draft manual on how the office would run, the draft "was deficient in every regard." After some back-and-forth, the team decided that it must review the office and rebuild it.
While some have suggested that the office has not been given a big enough budget, "it is unlikely that resource issues alone can explain or justify how OPS has gotten to where it is," the report says.
Equipment and resources
According to the report, police officers often use equipment that malfunctions or is out of date.
"Far too many critical law enforcement functions depend on manual processes or idiosyncratic officer workarounds rather than harness the advantage of uniform, computerized platforms," the report says.
Such outdated technology could lead to harm to the officers, according to the report. In November, the police department upgraded its software system for the first time since 1998. The system immediately caused problems with the department's aging computers and servers.
This caused the city to fall behind on entering reports into the system. As of April 20, the city had yet to log almost 12,000 reports. That number has shrunk to slightly below 7,600 as of May 25, but the city has a long way to go, the report says.
"Without such reports entered into the system, it is as though these events never happened," the team writes.
In addition, patrol cars "are often in significant levels of disrepair," and officers sometimes fix their own cars and pay for it with their own money, according to the report. They also lack computers for all patrol cars.
The report says that there has been "tremendous progress" in creating a use-of-force policy. Under the city's first-year plan, the policy must be finalized and implemented by Jan. 1.
The same was said about creating policies and training officers how to handle people who suffer from mental illnesses. It says that all officers will be given eight hours of crisis intervention training. Officers who specialize in crisis intervention will undergo] 40 hours of additional training intensive training.
The report also notes that the department must make sure that all searches, seizures and stops are constitutional.
While such reforms are not scheduled to be made until next year, the report says the monitor has heard from residents "that negative views of interactions with CPD stem not necessarily from what happens but, instead, from how officers treat or interact with residents during those encounters."
It also said that "detailed and thorough" recommendations from the city's Community Police Commission on bias-free policing should help the city as it crafts a new policy. The policy must be finalized by October, with new training approved by March, the report says.
The Republican National Convention
In May 2015, when the city settled with the U.S. Justice Department, it had known for more than a year that it would host the Republican National Convention. The police department's focus on planning for the July convention is "increasingly imposing substantial operational demands on CPD."
Convention demands have apparently taken precedent over reform. According to the report, the deadline for a final draft on a new use-of-force policy was pushed back for a few months as a result.
While the city is still expected to have the new policy in effect by January, that policy and others "will be either in progress or yet to come in mid-July," according to the report.
The monitoring team will be on the ground during the convention to observe how the police interact with protesters and others who attend the convention.
The city has a long way to go in making its police department more transparent, the monitoring team says.
As it stands, though, the city has fallen behind in providing department information to the public, the report states.
The settlement requires that the department post policies, procedures, initiatives and other information on its website. The city has not done so, but indicated that it is working on a mechanism for the department to easily post information on the website.
Under the settlement, the city must also create an inspector general position. The inspector general will be tasked with doing its own audits to ensure that officers are adhering to department policies.
The settlement only mandates one person that the monitor suggests hiring after January. But the monitor's report casts some doubt on whether one person can fill that role.
The report also says that the department, in following the settlement, will soon hire a new data collection and analysis coordinator to collect information about use of force, searches and seizures and allegations of misconduct.