U.S. Department of Justice Finds 'Pattern' of Use of Force Within Cleveland Police Department

Promising Reform, City Will Enter into Consent Decree

After reviewing nearly 600 use of force incidents between 2010 and 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice found reasonable cause to confirm a "pattern or practice of use of force" at the Cleveland Police Department, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.

The findings are based on a general lack of internal and external accountability, as well as little in the way of effective equipment and tactical training. Too often, the investigation revealed, officers' use of force was approved with no real questioning by superiors. Fourth Amendment violations run rampant. Officers were found often to escalate incidents with suspects, rather than de-escalate a situation and its potential for violence.

Vanita Gupta, chief of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, traced the deleterious trends here in Cleveland to broader national concerns over police use of force.

The city will enter a consent decree with the Department of Justice, one that will bring in a court-appointed independent monitor to ensure that reformed and robust policies will result in more effective policing. Holder mentioned, of course, that reform is not the sort of thing that happens "overnight." The details of the consent decree will be worked out in the coming months.

"We have seen many times over that this model can work," Holder said, citing 15 other consent decrees across the U.S. "It's a solid foundation for meaningful steps forward." 

Holder began the announcement by saying recent events — the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, namely — have prompted "urgent national questions" about the trust that people place in their police departments. "Accountability and legitimacy are essential for communities to trust their police departments, and for there to be genuine collaboration between police and the citizens they serve," Holder said.

Along with widespread calls for federal oversight, the investigation immediately followed the Nov. 29, 2012, police chase and shootout that resulted in officers firing 137 bullets into a car and killing Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both unarmed.

Mayor Frank Jackson still publicly skirted the question of whether "systemic failures" plague Cleveland Police Department. "There were officers who did the right thing and there were officers who did the wrong thing. We disciplined those who did the wrong thing," he said, referencing the shootout. Holder said that Jackson has been cooperative throughout the federal process.

"These problems can be rectified, and the force can be made better," Holder said. "I would bet that, at the conclusion of the consent decree period, that things will have changed."

The investigation did not include the recent shooting death of Tamir Rice — and U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said that the local investigation into that incident is ongoing and wholly separate from the federal probe.

Read the official findings letter from the U.S. Department of Justice here:

U.S. Department of Justice Findings: Investigation of Cleveland Police Department

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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