Cleveland Police Department Accepts Strict Standards on When it Can Use Force

Religious leaders and others marched to the Justice Center and City Hall in Cleveland on Tuesday, demanding changes in the criminal justice system for the city. (Credit: Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times)
Religious leaders and others marched to the Justice Center and City Hall in Cleveland on Tuesday, demanding changes in the criminal justice system for the city. (Credit: Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times)

The Cleveland police department, which has become synonymous with the racially charged debate over police tactics, has agreed to follow some of the most exacting standards in the nation over how and when its officers can use force, and it will accept close oversight to make sure those rules are not ignored, city and federal officials said Tuesday.

The agreement is part of a settlement with the Justice Department over what federal officials have called a pattern of unconstitutional policing and abuse in Cleveland. The department found in a review released late last year that police officers here used stun guns inappropriately, punched and kicked unarmed people, and shot at people who posed no threat. The episodes often went unreported and uninvestigated, investigators found.

“There is much work to be done, across the nation and in Cleveland, to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve where it has eroded, but it can be done,” said Vanita Gupta, who leads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Today’s agreement really should serve as a model for those seeking to address similar issues in their communities.”

At a time when the Obama administration has bemoaned the lack of data surrounding the use of force by the police, even when people are killed, Cleveland has agreed to document every time officers so much as unholster their guns. Police supervisors will investigate the uses of force in much the same way that officers investigate crimes.

“A fundamental goal of the revised use of force policy will be to account for, review and investigate every reportable use of force,” the agreement says.

The cases last year of Eric Garner, who died after a police chokehold in New York, and Michael Brown, who was shot and killed after a scuffle with a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., ignited the most vigorous national debate on policing since the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991. The deaths were followed by high-profile cases in Baltimore, North Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere. The cases often revealed longstanding problems inside the departments and deeply rooted tensions between police officers and African-American communities.

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SOURCE: MITCH SMITH and MATT APUZZO
The New York Times

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