CLEVELAND — The centerpiece of an agreement between the city of Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice on how to reform the city's troubled police department is creating an organization that is more accountable and engaged with the people it serves.
Community policing, improved training and policies concerning the use of force and more sensitivity in dealing with the mentally ill are key elements in the 105-page agreement filed Tuesday in federal court. A judge must now approve the settlement as well as the city's selection of an independent monitor who will oversee reforms.
The agreement calls for the creation of a community police commission consisting of 10 residents and three police union officials that will make recommendations on practices aimed at making policing free of bias, accountable and transparent. There is an expansive list of items in the settlement aimed at easing longstanding tensions between police and residents, especially in the black community, which makes up more than half of Cleveland's population.
Mayor Frank Jackson said at the news conference announcing the settlement on Tuesday that the Cleveland police department has an opportunity to become a positive example for the rest of the country.
“As we move forward, it is my strong belief that as other cities across this country address and look at their police issues in their communities, they will be able to say, ‘Let's look at Cleveland because Cleveland has done it right,’” Jackson said.
The Justice Department in December issued a scathing report accusing Cleveland police of using excessive force and violating people's civil rights. The worst examples in the report involved officers endangering lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hitting people over the head with guns and using stun guns on handcuffed suspects.
The agreement was announced just three days after a white Cleveland patrolman was acquitted of manslaughter for his role in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire that killed two unarmed black suspects in 2012.
The city is still awaiting decisions on whether officers will be prosecuted in the deaths of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy killed by a white rookie officer while playing with what turned out to be a pellet gun, and 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill black woman who suffocated after officers put her on the ground and handcuffed her. Both deaths occurred eight days apart in November.
U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach said Tuesday that reforms “will help ensure the many brave men and women of the Cleveland Division of Police can do their jobs not only constitutionally, but also more safely and effectively.”
Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, said he and the union's attorneys are studying the agreement.
“I'm hopeful it has reached some good conclusions,” Loomis said. “But the devil is always in the details for these kinds of things.”
Michael Nelson, co-chairman of the Cleveland NAACP's Legal Redress and Criminal Justice Committee, said it is important that there be “bona fide community participation” on the community police commission, people independent of city officials and agencies. Also, he said the agreement should acknowledge that race has been an issue in Cleveland policing and that such bias must be combated.
The Justice Department has launched broad investigations into the practices of more than 20 police departments in the past five years, including agencies in Ferguson, Missouri, and, most recently, in Baltimore. Both cities were convulsed by rioting and looting in recent months over the police-involved deaths of black men.
Then U.S. Attorney Eric Holder said in December that the Justice Department had intervened in 15 police departments in the country, including eight that are operating under court-ordered consent decrees.