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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

City Council Gets Long Hard Look at Matthew Barge, New Consent Decree Monitor

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2015 at 1:24 PM

click to enlarge The calm before the Barge. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • The calm before the Barge.
Cleveland City Council's safety committee convened for a special meeting Wednesday morning to meet and probe Matthew Barge, Deputy Director of the L.A.-based Police Assessment Resource Center.

The firm, a non-profit, was just selected as the Independent Monitor to oversee the Cleveland Consent Decree. PARC will be paid nearly $5 million for the job, and Barge will direct the 15-person team.

Over the course of a lengthy meeting, Barge introduced himself and the team's local members, highlighting diverse and extensive resumes. He then fielded questions from council members about the selection process and his responsibilities as monitor.

Barge stressed his goals of both accessibility and accountability, and said that though he also currently serves on Seattle's consent decree team, his primary project is Cleveland. He'll be on the ground locally, listening carefully and at length to the community.

"I'm not the Chief of Police, I'm not the Mayor, I'm not the DOJ," Barge said. "I'm an agent of Judge [Solomon] Oliver, and as a lawyer I take that responsibility very seriously. We will implement the consent decree as substantially and effectively as it possibly can be. We'll call it like we see it."  

(Note: We didn't manage to get a decent picture of Matthew Barge, who is a lean and handsome chap, but here's one)

To safety committee chair Matt Zone's multiple "talk about" questions regarding specific policy areas — bias-free policing and cultural competency, for example — Barge said he felt one of his principal responsibilities will be getting various stakeholders to the same table. 

"My job will be to structure and facilitate the conversations and then get out of the way," he said. Even after only six days on the job, Barge said he's been encouraged that so many different community groups seem to have similar goals. 

Council Prez Kevin Kelley asked about the scope and timeline of PARC's work. The consent decree itself suggested a duration of about five years and Barge agreed with that assessment. He said it would be possible to achieve the goals of the settlement more rapidly, but that it would require "authentic, genuine engagement" from the entire Cleveland division of police and the community right away. 

Councilman Zone said that the PARC team would be setting up local offices soon and that members of the team would be available for community meetings and media requests. Barge added, at a question about a lack of centralized information from Councilman Brian Cummins, that another one of his jobs will be ensuring that the public is informed and up-to-date, via a website and additional channels.

Barge explained the thorough selection process from his perspective and suggested that PARC's tires had been thoroughly kicked, the hood  sufficiently looked under, during a formal application and interview process. Cleveland selected PARC from a field of 22 potential firms, with bids ranging from $3.3 million to nearly $14 million. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said at the official announcement of PARC's selection that one of the reasons the L.A. firm was picked was because of its "competitive price." 

Cleveland.com reported that PARC's bid was the sixth-lowest of the 22 applicants. 

When asked how Cleveland's consent decree compared to others he'd worked on previously, Barge said that indeed every city was different, but Cleveland's consent decree was probably "the most far reaching and most specific," especially in its recommendations related to officer supervision and accountability mechanisms.

And why not. Here's a great quote from Mike Polensek: "You're here for a reason," the Dean of City Council told Barge. "You didn't come here to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."  


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