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Cleveland Police Must Turn New Policies Into Action, Monitor Says

Monitor Matthew Barge and his team address Cleveland City Council in 2016. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Monitor Matthew Barge and his team address Cleveland City Council in 2016.

The monitor overseeing Cleveland’s police reform agreement says the city is at a “critical turning point,” and now must put new policies into practice.

The city, the monitoring team and the Justice Department provided an update on the consent decree to U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is the point at which paper must be transformed into sustained, ongoing practice,” Monitor Matthew Barge wrote in his team’s latest semiannual report. He added that the city “still has a distance to travel” until it fully complies with the consent decree.

Barge said police used force less frequently last year, with the number of reported incidents falling 29 percent from 2017. Officer injuries are down 22 percent, and major crimes have fallen too, with the exception of rape.

He said the monitoring team has begun to evaluate uses of force from 2018 to see whether police followed the city’s new policies.

Cleveland has also cut down on its backlog of citizen complaints about police, city chief counsel Gary Singletary said. The Office of Professional Standards is working to stay on top of more recent complaint cases, he said.  

The backlog has posed a years-long problem for the city. Cleveland hired an outside firm, Hillard Heintze, to clear those complaints. Singletary said he expects investigations to be completed for a large portion of the remaining 144 old cases by the end of the year.

Barge said Cleveland still has “substantial work outstanding” in the coming year. The city must finalize its search and seizure policy and develop new rules for investigating uses of force and officer misconduct.

Last month, Oliver approved the city’s new staffing and community policing plans. The latter expects officers to spend about a fifth of their time on community engagement, such as attending local meetings and helping people solve neighborhood problems.

Chief Calvin Williams said police now must make community engagement a regular part of their routine.

“We’re all in on this,” Williams told the court. “The division of police and the city of Cleveland definitely want to make this work.”


Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.