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Police Monitor Karl Racine defends office's work at Cleveland City Council

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Ygal Kaufman
/
Ideastream Public Media
Karl Racine speaks to City Council on the progress the city is making on the consent decree.

Cleveland police monitor Karl Racine pushed back against city councilmembers who criticized the monitor for a lack of progress and high bills as the city enters its tenth year under the consent decree.

Racine’s role is to assess the city’s progress towards meeting each of the 370-plus requirements in the consent decree. Federal Judge Solomon Oliver will eventually decide whether the city is in “full compliance” with the 2015 agreement and release the city.

“The monitor is not going to be the entity that brings the city into compliance,” Racine told city council. “That’s the city’s job.”

During a safety committee meeting Wednesday, members criticized Racine for charging the city $600 an hour for each team member from Racine’s Washington, D.C.-based law firm Hogan Lovells and $230 an hour for the local staff.

“There are some people who believe that you folks ain’t never going to leave,” Polensek said. “You guys are here and the meter is running.”

Racine was hired in April 2023 as the third monitor. He was recommended for the job by the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, with the final decision made by Judge Oliver. The monitoring team’s bills are paid by the city.

In 2023, the monitor’s office came in under budget — charging the city about $979,000, $126,000 less than the estimated budget. But the office says its work last year was slowed by a delay in starting assessments of the city’s search and seizure records.

Racine pointed to legal squabbling with the law department as the main obstruction to progress.

“We need to move forward without a hint of obstruction,” Racine told council Wednesday. "When you do that, it causes delay."

Every six months since the consent decree began in 2015, the monitor has released a semiannual report detailing the police department’s progress. In the most recent report, the 14th Semiannual Report covering the second half of 2023, the city was described as “running in place.”

During that period, according to Racine, the city failed to provide the records needed for an assessment of the search and seizure records. According to city officials, that was because the city was conducting an internal audit first.

In December, the law department shut off access to the department records the monitoring team had used to do its work since 2015. In March, Judge Oliver ordered the city to restore access.

Racine told council the members of the department, the police union and the Police Accountability Team in the mayor’s office have been more open to working with the monitor.

He plans to conduct assessments in three areas in 2024: search and seizure, crisis intervention and uses of force.

There are seven other areas, including community problem-oriented policing and bias-free policing, where the city is still not ready for an assessment.

Once those are completed, the monitor will begin reducing its oversight of the department, preparing to release it from the consent decree.

Racine did not give an estimate of when that might happen.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.