By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Mar. 26, 2018)
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A federal judge on Friday signed an order approving a new bias-free policing policy that must be adhered to by all city of Cleveland's police officers.
The move is the latest in a series of reforms the city agreed to in a 2015 consent decree designed to end what the Justice Department said was a longstanding pattern of unconstitutional policing at nearly every level of the department's ranks.
The Justice Department's investigation into the police department didn't set out to examine racial bias on the part of officers. But its 2014 report that summarized its findings says that "when we interviewed members of the community about their experiences with the police, many African-Americans reported that they believe (Cleveland Division of Police) officers are verbally and physically aggressive toward them because of their race."
The union that represents the city's rank-and-file officers has long denied that it racially profiles while patrolling.
The monitoring team recommended to U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. in February that he approve the new policy. Oliver took that action on Friday, immediately ordering it into effect.
The new policy demands that police officers patrol without bias and says they must treat people they encounter with respect. It also says officers must make their decisions based on reasonable suspicion and probable cause, without discriminating based on demographic.
The policy also states that officers must use "procedural justice," which means they must give people a chance to be heard when approached. They must make decisions fairly, clearly explain them and convey "goodwill and trustworthiness," according to the policy.
Officers are also forbidden from engaging in or ignoring policing with bias, using harassing or derogatory language concerning any demographic or determining suspicion or probable cause based only on a person's criminal record.
The police department started drafting the policy in April 2016. It underwent multiple revisions after the department received feedback from the monitoring team and the Justice Department. A draft circulated for public comment last year.
James Hardiman, president of the Cleveland NAACP, said the new policy is "long overdue."
"It's a step in the right direction, but only a step," Hardiman said. "The ultimate test is how it's implemented, if officers take it seriously."
Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, said he can't remember a single instance where an officer has been disciplined for racial profiling.
"Police officers do their job day in and day out," he said. "It's not based on race. It's based on victims, bad guys and good guys."