Proposed Cleveland Police Contract To Include Some Consent Decree Measures, Union President Says

Cleveland police officers stand watch outside Quicken Loans Arena as fans celebrate the Cavaliers' NBA Championship victory in 2016.
Cleveland police officers stand watch outside Quicken Loans Arena as fans celebrate the Cavaliers' NBA Championship victory in 2016. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Cleveland’s rank-and-file police officers may vote soon on a new union contract, one that begins to include measures laid out in the city’s reform agreement with the Justice Department.

The three-year contract increases officers’ pay and changes discipline and citizen complaint procedures, according to Steve Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association.

“We have a negotiated settlement agreement, tentatively, with the city,” Loomis said. “And that’s going to be going up for a vote of the membership here probably next week.”

Officers would receive no raises in the first year of the contract and 2 percent increases in the two years after that. Loomis said the city agreed to make a roughly 5 percent additional increase in base pay.

Residents would be able to make anonymous complaints about officers, Loomis said. That’s a departure from the CPPA’s current contract, which says complaints must be “submitted by the complainant in his or her own handwriting and signed.” 

The consent decree requires the city to “work with the police unions, as necessary” to allow complaints to be submitted by phone, online or anonymously.

Loomis opposed such a change, saying, “That’s just going to bog an already overburdened system down.” But he said anonymous complaints would not be considered when an officer is up for promotion or transfer.

The contract would also allow discipline to be kept in an officer’s file for three years, rather than the current limit of two years, Loomis said. The consent decree required the city to negotiate toward a 10-year limit.

“That’s half a career,” Loomis said. “Half a career that you can’t get promoted, half a career that you can’t get transferred if you make a mistake. We’re allowed to make mistakes, and we learn from our mistakes, but to hold them over our head for 10 years is absolutely unacceptable.”

Dan Williams, a spokesman for Mayor Frank Jackson, declined to confirm specifics. He wrote in an email that the city “does not comment on on-going negotiations.” But Williams said Cleveland is committed to the parts of the consent decree requiring the city to negotiate with the union.

National focus on union contracts

Cleveland’s consent decree mentions the union only a handful of times. But advocates of police accountability measures have placed greater focus on union contracts in recent years.

Loyola University Chicago law professor Stephen Rushin analyzed police contracts across the country for an article published in the Duke Law Journal in March.

“It looks like a lot of times, we’re striking pretty bad deals for the citizens,” Rushin said in an interview. “We’re striking deals that provide officers with a significant amount of procedural protection, but may in the process make it difficult for us to hold officers accountable for wrongdoing.”

Rushin examined which contracts included measures he termed “problematic disciplinary provisions,” such as delaying interviews after serious incidents or allowing punishment to go to arbitration. The CPPA’s contract does not require a delay, but does permit appeals to arbitrators.

The article highlighted Cleveland’s policy of removing discipline records after two years, arguing that such measures could make it harder to recognize bad behavior.

“Increasingly we recognize that one of the ways that we can identify officers that may be engaged in a pattern of misconduct,” Rushin said, “is you want to be able to record their behaviors over a long period of time.”

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