By Eric Heiseg, Cleveland Plain Dealer (June 7, 2016)
The head of a team monitoring Cleveland police over a settlement on use of force told those at a local NAACP chapter meeting Tuesday that the city needs to ensure residents do not have to "jump through any hoops" to lodge misconduct claims against officers.
Matthew Barge, speaking at the meeting held at University Circle United Methodist Church, said he and the team he heads are working with the police department to reform the Office of Professional Standards. His team put out a report Thursday that strongly criticizes the office's investigation of complaints.
Barge reiterated those criticisms on Tuesday, saying the state of the office is "dire." In response to a question from an audience member, Barge said that implementing online submission forms and placing forms at city buildings could help make the complaint filing process easier.
Currently, those who want to lodge a complaint must do so at a police station.
"Anything that makes it straightforward needs to be explored," Barge said.
He said he will have a better idea of the exact problems that plague the office — which the report says may include a lack of resources and a seeming unwillingness to use a newly-installed software system — as he works with the city in the next few weeks.
The report, which is the first time the monitor has publicly discussed the city's progress, praises the city's efforts 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But in addition to criticizing the department on investigating citizen complaints, it also paints a grim picture of the outdated equipment officers use on a daily basis.
Barge, in his comments to the NAACP crowd, said very little that wasn't covered by the monitor's report.
Speaking about the next six months, he said the city will need to focus on forming and implementing policies on use of force and community policing.
"Jan. 1, 2017, is a new day with respect to force and expectations on force among the Cleveland Division of Police," Barge said.