By Leila Atassi, Cleveland Plain Dealer (June 3, 2016)
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Members of the team assembled to monitor Cleveland's progress in implementing a federal consent decree governing police use of force said Friday that they believe officers have begun to understand that the reforms underway are as much about improving their own working conditions as they are about ensuring Constitutional policing in Cleveland.
The monitoring team met with members of the media Friday - a day after releasing the team's first biannual report on the city's progress - to shed more light on their first six months on the job. The city entered the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in May 2015 after an investigation showed that the city's police officers often used excessive force when dealing with citizens and that systems intended to hold officers accountable were broken.
For months after the consent decree was forged, debates raged over whether the settlement agreement was anti-police in nature or would bring about reforms that diminished the powers of officers and endangered their lives.
But monitoring team member and policing expert Sean Smoot said Friday that in the past six months, through one-on-one conversations, ride-alongs and other time spent with the team, rank-and-file officers have come to see that the reform effort is giving officers the tools they need to do their jobs more safely.
"There is a recognition in the department and community that the philosophy of the monitoring team is that we're not here to do this consent decree to you, or to do it for you," Smoot said. "We're here to do it collaboratively with you."
For example, lead monitor Matthew Barge said, officers have felt comfortable expressing to the monitors their frustration with the department's inadequate technology, equipment and record-management system. Barge said that as officers see that the monitoring team is advocating for their department to meet those needs, they are more likely to buy into the process.
"This is not equipment and technology for the fun of it," Barge said. "The stuff we're describing in the report is core stuff that officers need to keep Cleveland and themselves safe. I would hope that as we have more of those conversations and hold people to task for making investments – which in some instances are not about outlays of money, but are about capacity and focus – that officers will see that it's about giving them the tools they need to fulfill those new requirements."
Watch the video above to hear more from the monitoring team's meeting with reporters. And read the stories below for more details from the team's biannual report.