The city of Cleveland has agreed to have its police department overseen by an independent monitor and subject its officers to strict and explicit new rules on the use of force, under a settlement with the Justice Department that was announced Tuesday.
The agreement, which follows the Justice Department’s finding that Cleveland police engaged in unnecessary and excessive use of force, imposes some of the toughest standards in the nation on the department. It lays out an array of prohibitions in an effort to reduce violent encounters between the police and the community — particularly its minorities — and ingrain “bias-free policing principles” throughout the department.
The police department, according to the agreement, is now expected to “deliver police services with the goal of ensuring that they are equitable, respectful, and free of unlawful bias, in a manner that promotes broad community engagement and confidence.”
Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson said the accord “marks a new way of policing in the city . . . built on the strong foundation of progressive change, sustained trust and accountability.”
The city, for instance, must document every time an officer unholsters a gun, which the agreement says is a reportable use of force and should be investigated as such. “Officers will not unholster and display a firearm unless the circumstances create a reasonable belief that lethal force may become necessary,” according to the rules.
Cleveland officers are now explicitly barred from using neck holds. They can use force against people who are handcuffed or restrained only when it is “objectively reasonable and necessary” to prevent an assault or an escape. And they are instructed not to use retaliatory force, such as punishing “an individual for disrespecting officers,” or use force against people “who only verbally confront them.”
Officers are also not allowed to fire a warning shot, and they are prohibited from firing from or at a moving vehicle unless they can justify the use of lethal force by something other than the threat from the moving car.
The settlement further requires that before resorting to force officers use “de-escalation techniques,” such as verbal persuasion and creating distance between the officer and the threat, whenever possible.
The city also will be required to provide medical care to residents who have been the subjects of force. The agreement does not require the use of body cameras by officers.
“For the past days and months, the nation has looked toward Cleveland as we have grappled with difficult issues involving police-community relations,” said U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio. “Today, the nation should look at this city for an example of what true partnership and hard work can accomplish — a transformational blueprint for reform that can be a national model for any police department.”
The agreement also calls for the creation of a community police commission, made up of 10 representatives from across the community, including from civil rights and student organizations, and one representative each from the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Shield police association.
Within 18 months, the police department is required to develop policies that provide clear guidance to officers that such actions as detaining a motorist or pedestrian based “solely on racial stereotypes” are prohibited.
The settlement, set against the growing debate over policing tactics in the United States, comes just days after a judge acquitted a white Cleveland police officer in the fatal shooting of two unarmed African Americans in 2012. The agreement is an outgrowth of a scathing report the Justice Department, issued in December, accusing Cleveland police of illegally using deadly force against citizens.
Under the court-enforceable agreement, the city and the Justice Department will jointly select an independent monitor to determine whether the requirements of the agreement have been implemented for a term of at least five years.
The Justice Department’s civil rights division, under President Obama, has opened more than 20 investigations of police departments. It has entered into 15 agreements with law enforcement agencies, such as the Cleveland police force, including consent decrees with nine of them.
Cleveland officials worked closely with the Justice Department in recent months to create the agreement, officials said.
“What is remarkable about Cleveland and this agreement is that it reflects the decision of community members, law enforcement leaders and city officials to do the difficult work required to address the systemic issues that can undermine cooperation between the police and large parts of the community, thereby reducing public safety,” said Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice civil rights division.