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

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sep. 16, 2016), http://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/index.ssf/2016/09/residents_offer_input_into_pro.html#incart_m-rpt-1

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.