Cleveland Police to Alter Practices as U.S. Faults Use of Force

The U.S. Justice Department reached an agreement with Cleveland mandating changes to the city’s police, after a federal inquiry found that officers violated constitutional rights and excessively used deadly force.

Under the 105-page consent decree announced Tuesday, the Ohio city will implement new policies governing the use of force, including required training for officers. All uses of force must be fully reported and reviewed, the Justice Department said.

“Constitutional policing is key to building trust between police departments and the communities they serve,” Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s civil-rights division, said in a statement. “Today, Cleveland demonstrates to the rest of the country that people can come together across perceived differences to realize a common vision of a safer, more just city.”

The deal was announced jointly with city officials, including Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams. Police conduct in cities across the U.S. is facing closer scrutiny by the Justice Department after several high-profile incidents, including the fatal shooting last year of an unarmed black teenager by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of a black man who sustained spinal injuries while in Baltimore police custody.

The department earlier this month opened a full-scale civil-rights inquiry into the Baltimore police.

18-Month Inquiry

The agreement in Cleveland follows a Justice Department report issued in December that found city officers violated constitutional rights through deadly force, use of Tasers, chemical spray and fists as well as attacks on the mentally ill.

The findings culminated an 18-month inquiry and were released less than a month after the Nov. 22 police shooting of a 12-year-old Cleveland boy who was carrying a pellet gun.

As part of its inquiry, the Justice Department reviewed nearly 600 cases of force by the Cleveland Division of Police from 2010 to 2013. They included a car chase two years ago that started with a backfire that police thought was a gunshot, the report said. Two unarmed people were killed after 13 officers fired 137 times at their vehicle.

Over the weekend, a judge in a bench trial found city police officer Michael Brelo not guilty of charges of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault for his role in the shooting deaths of the two unarmed people. Protests erupted afterward, resulting in more than 70 arrests.

The city agreed to create a commission to solicit community input on law enforcement issues and to help develop a community policing plan. It also agreed to adopt policies and training to reduce racial bias on the part of officers, and to strengthen internal watchdog offices to guarantee thorough investigations of police misconduct.

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