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Cleveland police fail to adopt 'culture change,' consent monitor says

 Cleveland Division of Police headquarters in Downtown Cleveland.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
The monitor found that the city had made substantial progress on the use of force and crisis intervention policies.

The Cleveland Police consent decree monitor filed a new progress report in federal court Monday that shows the police department is struggling to make progress in several areas, including culture change.

The longest and most detailed section in the monitor’s report was on Community and Problem Oriented Policing, called “CPOP” for short.

CPOP is designed to spark change in the culture of policing by having officers learn about community issues from residents and work with them to fix them, according to the report.

“The City has not provided any description of how it has partnered or developed relationships with community groups or leaders,” wrote the police monitor Karl Racine.

According to the monitor, Cleveland police have instead focused on one-way community engagement — like conversations at public events, calls to district commanders or the highly publicized foot patrols over the summer — which lack the collaboration CPOP requires.

“CPOP is about developing mutual partnerships to identify issues and subsequently work through the problem-solving process to come up with sustainable solutions,” wrote the monitor.

In 2015, Cleveland signed the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice after a 2014 investigation found a pattern and practice of excessive force by officers.

The report released Monday points to training as a possible source of the issue. When members of the monitoring team attended CPOP training, they reported parts of the approved curriculum were left out and trainers rushed parts of the lesson or failed to engage officers, the report said.

“Poor classroom instruction and management demonstrates a lack of progress in terms of CPOP implementation and sends the message to officers that forging enduring community partnerships and identifying and developing strategies for sustainable solutions are not priorities for CDP,” the monitor wrote.

The police monitor has filed a status report twice-a-year with the federal district court judge overseeing the consent decree, Solomon Oliver, since the beginning of the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015.

This is the first report from the third monitor appointed by Judge Oliver.

It includes a line-by-line assessment of the city’s progress toward meeting the nearly 400 separate requirements included in the consent decree. In some areas, like use of force and crisis intervention, the city is close to completing its requirements.

In crisis intervention, the monitor is planning to conduct an assessment next year that could lead to the city moving onto the next stage, with limited oversight from the monitor, in that part of the decree.

In other areas, including CPOP, the city is far from moving onto the next stage, despite city officials’ recent calls for the lifting of oversight.

A memo sent by Law Director Mark Griffin to the former monitor, Hassan Aden, in August, 2022, highlighted the city’s progress on use of force and de-escalation and questioned whether Aden’s continued presence in the role violated new Justice Department guidelines.

Later that month, Mayor Justin Bibb told reporters, “I am working as quickly as I possibly can to get out of it,” referring to the consent decree.

Bibb pointed to the high price tag of oversight and strides made by the city already as reasons to be released soon. An analysis by reporters from The Marshall Project last year found that Cleveland had spent more than $60 million since the start of the consent decree.

But the new monitor laid out several reasons why it is unlikely that Cleveland will be released any time soon.

The monitoring team tried to assess whether the department is adhering to new search and seizure policies this year but did not receive enough information from the city, according to the report. Other issues in the report include that the consent decree-created inspector general position has been vacant since early 2021, disciplinary investigations continue to take longer than they should and the systems for employee evaluation and promotion have not incorporated requirements from the consent decree.

The monitor, lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice and city officials will be in court October 25 to discuss this status report with Judge Oliver.

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