CLEVELAND – The Justice Department has found that the Cleveland Division of Police engages “in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force” and that outside, independent monitoring of the division is required to address the problem.
Just who that monitor will be, and what he or she will oversee is still being negotiated. But the monitor’s role may ultimately be tied to oversight of the police force by a federal judge.
In a scathing, 58-page report that is addressed as a letter to Mayor Frank Jackson, DOJ investigators portray a department that, while it employs many fine officers, often engages in an “us-against-them” mentality in dealing with the community it serves.
In the first paragraph of the letter, the report says the police officers use of excessive force violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
It lists four major areas where “structural and systemic deficiencies” lead to “the use of unreasonable force.”
1) insufficient accountability;
2) inadequate training;
3) ineffective policies;
4) inadequate engagement with the community
Mayor Jackson had formally requested the DOJ investigation in the wake of an almost unbelievable deadly police chase in November of 2012.
Over 60 Cleveland police cars chased two people for more than a half-hour from downtown into East Cleveland after an officer apparently mistook a car backfiring for a gunshot.
In the end, the police fired 137 rounds, killing Timothy Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams.
No weapon was found on either of them, and an Ohio Attorney General’s report concluded the 13 officers who fired were, at times, shooting towards each other.
The report addresses high-profile cases, but also is the culmination of a year and half worth of painstaking work that dug deep into the culture of the police division.
It says the pattern of excessive force manifests itself in several ways, including:
1) unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;
2) unnecessary, excessive, and retaliatory use of less lethal force, including tasers, chemical spray, and fists;
3) excessive force against persons who are mentally ill, or in crisis;
4) the employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in dangerous situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable….
In regard to that last finding, several police experts have questioned why officers pulled so close to 12-year-old Tamir Rice after they had received a dispatch call that he had a gun.
Video shows that the officers pulled right up next to him, and, after saying Rice reached for his gun, shot him.
The gun turned out to be a replica (it looked like a real gun) and Rice later died of his wounds.
The report cites a lack of transparency and follow-through on the investigations of the use of force by police officers that could be described almost as rubber-stamping almost all police conduct.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson released the following statement Thursday:
“In December of 2012, I asked for a review by the Department of Justice to obtain an objective, transparent, outside evaluation of the Division of Police’s policies and operations related to the use of force. The City entered into this Department of Justice review committed to righting any unconstitutional wrongs proven to exist within the Cleveland Division of Police. Today we continue in that direction.
The City of Cleveland Division of Police has made significant progress in implementing the types of changes designed to foster professionalism in our police force and to ensure a safe environment on our streets, but there is always room for improvement. Although we may have disagreements on some facts or conclusions drawn, the City of Cleveland remains committed to continue making appropriate changes to the policies, procedures, and training that guide the use of force by the Division of Police.
We have the greatest opportunity, through a partnership between the City of Cleveland, Department of Justice, and the community, to create a template of how to do real community policing while recognizing the challenges of an urban environment. We welcome the review, appreciate the thoroughness of the report, and look forward to working with you and the community.”
After the press conference, Eric Holder joined with community leaders and authorities for a further discussion.
Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeff Follmer said, “We knew this was coming at some point in time. Right now, I haven’t had a chance to go through everything. We’re going to meet with the Department of Justice after this community meeting, go through things and we’ll take a step back and look at it, but this is no surprise. We knew it was coming here sooner or later.”
This is in sharp contrast to Cincinnati, where the police are investigated by an independent Citizens Complaint Authority that is transparent and has real power.
The I-Team did a series of reports on Cincinnati police, who have undergone an almost complete culture change since riots in 2001 led to a DOJ investigation, and development of a method of agreed-upon community policing known as “the collaborative.”
A key to the success in Cincinnati is the belief by its rank-and-file union officers that the extra training, coupled with better engagement with the community, has actually made the officers safer while they are doing their jobs.
The DOJ’s report calls for a more community-oriented policing model in Cleveland that is very similar to what Cincinnati now employs.
Watch Bill Sheil’s report below for more.