Cleveland Consent Decree Monitor Expects No Major Impact From a Trump Presidency

President-elect Donald Trump’s“tough on crime” stance has raised questions about how far federal consent decrees for police reform can go. The head of the  Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association tells it is looking into possible adjustments to the city’s agreement with the Justice Department. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports on what the Trump presidency could mean. 

Cleveland consent decree monitor Matthew Barge says these agreements can take years to implement, so their evolution may span different political administrations. He says police consent decrees began in 1994 under President Bill Clinton, and some changes came under President George W. Bush after 9/11.

“What you see just by the numbers is that there was a decrease over time in the number of new investigations of police departments that were initiated. But it wasn’t as though the consent decrees that were on the books when that administration came on board immediately stopped. They continued to run until the judges and respective jurisdictions determined that here had been sufficient compliance with the decree.”

Barge says because consent decrees are federal court orders, wholesale changes are unlikely.

Hear the story here.

PARC's Matthew Barge Discusses Consent Decree Progress at City Club of Cleveland

PARC's Matthew Barge spoke to the City Club of Cleveland on Friday, October 28 to discuss what progress as been made and what reforms still need to be enacted in regards to the Cleveland consent decree.  Barge is the monitor overseeing a Consent Decree and a 20-member PARC Team.

You can watch and listen to the remarks here.

Approval Rating of Seattle Police Reaches New High in Latest Independent Survey

“The most dramatic this year was among African Americans, who today view the SPD better than whites did three years ago,” according to a survey commissioned by the federal monitor overseeing court-ordered reforms.

By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times (Oct. 24, 2016)

Public approval of the Seattle Police Department has reached a new high in the fourth year of federally mandated reforms, notably among African Americans, according to a new survey.

Overall, 72 percent of Seattle residents approve of the department’s performance in 2016, compared with 60 percent in 2013, the first full year after the city entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to address excessive force and biased policing. In 2015, the number was 64 percent.

The random survey, filed Monday with U.S. District Judge James Robart, was the third to be commissioned by federal monitor Merrick Bobb, who is overseeing the court-ordered reforms.

Conducted by a public opinion research firm between Sept. 21 and Oct. 2, it involved 700 cellphone and landline telephone interviews of adults, along with an additional 105 African Americans and 95 Latinos. It wasn’t immediately clear how the additional interviews were conducted.

It comes on the heels of a September progress report from Bobb, who found Seattle police have made “significant progress” over the past year in complying with the consent decree and, for the first time, provided a potential time frame for the city to reach full compliance in fall 2017.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, in a statement Monday, said the survey “underscores the progress being made by the Seattle Police Department in addressing the gulf that exists between officers and the communities they serve.” He pledged to continue the work, citing the city’s recent proposal to bolster police-accountability and civilian oversight.

According to the survey, the 2016 approval rate among African Americans was 62 percent, compared to 48 percent in 2015 and 49 percent in 2013. For Latinos, the rate has grown from 54 percent in 2013, to 65 percent in 2015 and to 74 percent in 2016.

“The most dramatic this year was among African Americans, who today view the SPD better than whites did three years ago,” the survey found, adding that Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s approval rate also continues to rise, from 61 last year to 66 percent this year.

“Nothing is more important than community trust,” O’Toole said in a statement Monday in which she noted the “exciting progress” affirmed in the survey and called the results a testament to the department’s employees and a community “willing to partner with us moving forward.”

Disapproval of the department has gone down during the three survey periods, from 34 percent in 2013 to 25 percent in 2015 to 20 percent in 2016, with similar trends across racial and other demographic lines.

Fewer people who were stopped by the SPD reported problems, with 71 percent approving of the way their encounter was handled, compared with 65 percent in 2013 and 70 percent last year, according to the survey.

In the last year, 1 percent of residents said they personally have been victims of excessive force, including less than 1 percent of Latinos and African Americans.

Also in the past year, less than 1 percent of Seattle residents said they were victims of racial profiling, a statistic unchanged from 2015. Three percent of African Americans said they were victims of racial profiling, along with 1 percent of Latinos.

Seventy-six percent of residents reported SPD is keeping them safe, up slightly from 71 percent last year and 74 percent in 2013.

They also are more likely to perceive officers as treating them respectfully than in the past, and less likely than those surveyed in 2013 to perceive that the department uses excessive force, is verbally abusive, engages in racial profiling or uses racial slurs, according to the survey.

“That’s a change from 2015 — in 2015 we had fewer people report being victims of those incidents, but the citywide perception of their frequency hadn’t yet changed,” the researchers found.

Experiences of Latinos and African Americans support public perceptions that SPD treats them worse than others. But the gap is much smaller than in 2013, according to the survey.

The survey cited as “troubling” the number of Asian Americans who know someone who has been a victim of racial profiling. But while the number tied an all-time high, the sample was small, with a plus or minus 10 percent margin of error. Further investigation is needed, the researchers said.

U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes in Seattle lauded the overall findings while saying, “It is important to recognize the continued differences in attitudes and experience that the survey shows in communities of color here in Seattle.”

Asked about body cameras for officers, 92 percent of Seattle residents supported their use, compared with 5 percent who oppose them. The department hopes to equip officers with body cameras next year.

For the entire survey, the expected margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

New York Times Profiles Seattle Body-Worn Camera Implementation

The New York Times Magazine profiled the process of implementing body-worn cameras at the Seattle Police Department (SPD).  As the article describes, PARC's Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing the Consent Decree addressing SPD, has indicated over several semiannual reports that body-worn cameras are necessary to ensure constitutional policing and the long-term efficacy of Consent Decree reforms.

Read the full story here.

PARC's Matthew Barge Speaks at IAPro User's Conference

Matthew Barge, PARC's Co-Executive Director, spoke today at the annual IAPro User's Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  IAPro is a police performance database system manufactured by CI Technologies and used by 650 police agencies worldwide.

Mr. Barge spoke about the ways that agencies can use data on use of force incidents, pedestrian stops, early intervention systems, and other performance-related data to enhance accountability, promote transparency, and ensure constitutional policing.

PARC's Merrick Bobb Speaks at UC Irvine "Race & Policing" Symposium

On October 7, PARC's Merrick Bobb spoke at a major Unviersity of California, Irvine symposium entitled "Race & Policing: Defining the Problem & Developing Solutions."  Mr. Bobb spoke alongside UC Irvine Law School's Dean, Erwin Chemerinsky; UCI's Carroll Seron; and University of Nebraska at Ohama's police accountability expert Samuel Walker.

Read more about the symposium here.

Proposed Cleveland Police Policy Would Mandate Discipline for Officers Who Do Not Report Force

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Oct. 5, 2016)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A proposed new policy for Cleveland police says officers will face punishment if they do not properly report their own use of force or witness a fellow officer using force.

The proposed policy released Tuesday says officers must call supervisors to the scene of almost all use-of-force instances. They must also write detailed reports so that internal investigators may properly inquire whether the force was justified.

"Officers shall not use conclusory statements, 'boilerplate' or 'canned' language (e.g., furtive movement, fighting stance), without supporting details that are well articulated in the required reports," the proposed new policy says.

Officers who use or observe the use of force and do not report it would face discipline, including possible termination, regardless of whether the force was justified.

The policy proposal is another piece of a comprehensive overhaul of the police department's rules that govern how officers use force. It is required under a settlement the city reached with the U.S. Department of Justice to address how officers use force.

The majority of the proposed policies were unveiled last month, and the team monitoring the department's progress under the settlement held two community meetings to solicit feedback.

A federal judge must approve all of the policies, which are still being looked at by the city, the Justice Department and the monitoring team, before they are implemented. The city's goal is to have the new policies in place by the first of the new year.

A proposed use-of-force policy the Cleveland police monitoring team put forth on Thursday is designed to be a stepping stone on which all other departmental reforms can be built, the head monitor said.

The proposed reporting policy breaks down the seriousness of the force used into three levels.

The first two levels, which range from unholstering a weapon to using a Taser or pepper spray, would require officers who use and observe force to provide a detailed account of what happened leading up to the force. It would require an explanation about what attempts officers made to de-escalate the situation and how a subject resisted.

If a level three use of force is used, which includes deadly force, officers must make the same steps and also comply with any directives from the officer in charge of a team tasked with investigating use of force.

Certain rules are also in place for when an officer uses a Taser or whether a dog from a K-9 unit is used to subdue a suspect.

Those who want to submit feedback on the proposed reporting guidelines — or any other piece of the use-of-force policies — may do so at the monitoring team's website.

PARC's Merrick Bobb Presents to National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement

Merrick Bobb, PARC's Co-Executive Director, was a presenter today at the 22nd Annual Conference of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Mr. Bobb discussed his systemic reviews of use-of-force incidents in the context of monitoring a federal Consent Decree involving the Seattle Police Department. Mr. Bobb presented with Philip Eure, Inspector General for the New York Police Department (NYPD); Steven Rosenbaum, Chief of the United States Department of Justice's Special Litigation Section; and Jayson Wechter, Investigator in the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints.

You can read more about NACOLE and the conference here.

Seattle Police Have Made ‘Significant Progress,’ Could Reach Reform Goals by Next Fall, Federal Monitor Says

While significant work and key assessments lie ahead, the Seattle Police Department is on the right track, federal monitor Merrick Bobb wrote in his seventh semiannual report, which was filed Monday.

By Steve Miletich, Seattle Times (Sep. 26, 2016)

Seattle police have made “significant progress” over the past year in complying with many aspects of a consent decree to address excessive force and biased policing, according to the court-appointed monitor overseeing federally mandated reforms.

In a progress report filed Monday, the monitor, Merrick Bobb, for the first time provided a potential time frame for the city to reach full compliance: fall 2017.

“It has been a prodigious effort to come this far, and the distance traveled now exceeds the distance that remains,” Bobb wrote of the city’s efforts to meet the terms of a 2012 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.

While significant work and key assessments lie ahead, the Seattle Police Department is on the right track, Bobb wrote in his seventh semiannual report.

“Mayor Ed Murray promised nearly three years ago that reform of the SPD was the top priority of his first term,” Bobb wrote. “He has been good to his word and significant credit is due to the Mayor.”

Bobb, a Los Angeles police-accountability consultant, also singled out Murray’s police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, for bringing a “sharp focus” to the reform effort and “building necessary bridges” internally and with outside officials, the monitor’s team and the community. In addition, Bobb praised the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western Washington and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.

He also lauded the department’s rank-and-file for embracing new policies and training, saying it’s become evident that officers understand the consent decree contains best practices and contributes to their effectiveness and safety.

It also appears that “necessary cultural change” has begun to at least some meaningful extent, the report said.

“With diligence and hard work, and in the absence of unforeseen impediments, and if there comes about greater community cooperation and trust, the SPD could well reach full and effective compliance in as little as a year from now … in many, if not all, areas,” Bobb wrote.

If that occurs, it would coincide with Murray’s re-election effort.

While not mentioned in the report, one of the impediments could be the city’s contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG). The union’s membership overwhelmingly rejected a tentative contractthis summer that included, along with wage increases, reforms dealing with the police chief’s authority and disciplinary appeals.

At a court hearing last month, U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over the consent decree, said he would not let SPOG hold the city “hostage” by linking wages to constitutional policing.

Robart has set an Oct. 7 deadline for the city to submit proposed legislation listing police-accountability measures. Already, Robart has called for major changes that would affect the union’s membership: streamlined appeals of officer discipline and internal investigations conducted by civilians rather than sworn officers.

Guild President Kevin Stuckey said after the hearing that the union had received its “marching orders,” but in the September edition of SPOG’s newspaper, The Guardian, the vice president, Sgt. Rich O’Neill, struck a different chord in a front-page article.

Referring to a 2013 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the city on bargaining “mandatory subjects” resulting from the consent decree, O’Neill wrote, “Listening to some involved in this process, they appear to want the city to ignore this MOA and the state law. They want to simply have the changes legislated or ordered.”

O’Neill wrote that “may work in ‘right to work’ states where the employer merely needs to ‘meet and confer’ with the union and then can implement changes. That is not the law in this state!”

O’Neill, who according to sources led opposition to the tentative contract, was a polarizing figure when he served as president of the union from 2006 to 2014. He returned as vice president of the guild over the summer amid a shake-up in SPOG’s leadership.

He has informed the city that he will be the lead negotiator in contract talks and wants the discussion to start from scratch, according to a City Hall source familiar with the matter.

O’Neill and Stuckey couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

In citing progress in the Police Department, Bobb highlighted its notable restraint in using force with people in crisis due to mental illness or drugs.

He also pointed to a reduction in the use of moderate to higher-level use of force, saying this “may signal that officers on the whole are de-escalating more incidents and reserving force for only those instances where it is necessary, proportional, and reasonable” under the circumstances.

At the same time, Bobb wrote, there are areas that need to be evaluated, including the Police Department’s ability to achieve “better and sustained trust” among all the “various and diverse communities” it serves.

“Likewise, there remains some distance to travel to ensure that the requirements of the Consent Decree and the associated cultural change are not fleeting or temporary but are, instead, ‘baked in’ to the fabric of the Department,” the report added.

When full compliance is reached, the city and department then must maintain it during a two-year period in order to dissolve the consent decree, Bobb wrote, while expressing confidence the department is positioned to be a national leader in police reform.

Forum Sheds Light on Cleveland Residents' Lingering Concerns with Police Use of Force

By Jane Morice, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sep. 21, 2016)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Three days after the November 2014 afternoon when a Cleveland police officer shot Tamir Rice, Mayor Frank Jackson, police Chief Calvin Williams and other officials spent hours fielding tense questions and enduring heavy criticism from an angry public.

Close to two years later, the scene at another forum on policing resembled a corporate retreat, where moderators spoke to small groups of Cleveland residents about their current perception of the police department in a city in the throes of police reforms outlined in an agreement with the Justice Department.

For the second time in a week, the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team held a meeting to encourage the community to provide feedback on a proposed use-of-force policy that, if passed by the city council, would represent one of the most dramatic shifts in how police officers deal with the public.

Cleveland Police Monitor Matthew Barge explained to the more than 50 attendees the most significant changes in the proposed policy that would give police officers much clearer standards for when they can use force.

Among those changes include allowing officers to use force only when absolutely necessary; officers must try to exhaust all de-escalation techniques before applying force; officers must provide medical care to people who are injured and officers who see their fellow officers using too much force have a duty to intervene.

Tuesday's meeting came a day after Tulsa, Oklahoma officials released video of a man, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, shot and killed by police there once again thrusting the topics of use-of-force and police reform back into the national spotlight. The residents who attended made their primary concern clear: how will officers be held accountable for use-of-force abuses?

While the monitoring team found that many of the mechanisms used to field community complaints is fundamentally broken, the public has been repeatedly assured that the department is committed to fixing that system.  

At least half of the groups voiced concerns regarding officers' training to de-escalate tense interactions and more effectively communicate – actions for which officers will be held accountable.

The member of one group expressed lingering concerns about how police officers engage with Cleveland residents. She said that it seems like officers approach a situation with too much aggression, and said that she wishes they would "cool off" and "speak softly" when trying to assess a problem.

"Sometimes it makes you wish you didn't call in the first place," another member of her team said.

Williams and U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon attended and spoke at both Thursday's forum at the Jerry Sue Thornton Center at Cuyahoga Community College on the East Side and Tuesday's meeting at the Urban Community School on the West Side. They stressed how important community involvement is to the reform efforts.

"It's all well and good for us to sit in a room and talk about how things should be, and how our department should be a model for the nation. But that doesn't work – it doesn't work in isolation," Rendon said. "We're a community and this is our police department. Unless we know what it is that you want & what you need, what's of concern and interest to the community, then we can't do our jobs effectively."

Williams added to Rendon's comments by encouraging interested residents to take ride-alongs with police officers in order to see how policy is put into action.

"We don't have anything to hide," he said.

The suggestions put forth Tuesday night will be added to those offered at Thursday's meeting, and the monitoring team will adjust the policy in the weeks to come. Monitor Barge emphasized during his initial presentation that the policy is not finalized.

The monitoring team is responsible for piecing together recommendations on future policies, such as how use-of-force incidents will be reported and investigated by the department. Monitoring team members said that similar community input meetings will be held once those pieces of policy are completely drafted.

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

By Eric Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Sep. 16, 2016),

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.