© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cleveland police 'running in place' on consent decree, monitor says

photo of new Cleveland police monitor Karl Racine
Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland police consent decree monitor Karl Racine during a public forum on March 7, 2023.

The monitor overseeing the police consent decree in Cleveland is criticizing the city for a lack of progress and choosing “delay and legal squabbles” over cooperation with the monitoring team and U.S. Department of Justice.

“In fact, all ratings from the prior reporting period remain the same with the exception of one downgrade,” wrote Monitor Karl Racine in the 14th semiannual report, which rates the department’s progress toward meeting each of the 340 requirements in the consent decree. “By any measure, this static performance — akin to running in place — is insufficient.”

City officials disputed that characterization of the city’s work.

In addition to filing its own status report with federal court, which focused on the city’s overall progress, the administration official in charge of coordinating consent decree work in the mayor’s office, Leigh Anderson, criticized what she called the monitor’s “negative rhetoric.”

“Compliance also requires sustainment and maintaining those compliance areas. We're still exercising, right? We're still maintaining our heart rate,” Anderson said, referring to Racine’s “running in place” comment.

In the report, Racine focused on delays in access to records his office needs to do its job. During 2023, the monitoring team planned to assess police search and seizure forms to determine whether policies put in place early in the consent decree were taking hold.

“The City Law Department first started rolling back the Monitoring Team and DOJ’s data access in April 2023,” Racine wrote. “Then, in December 2023, the City cited unfounded reasons for suddenly ceasing all access to documents and databases that are plainly required by the Consent Decree.”

City officials dispute that criticism. From April until December, the search and seizure records were available but were not released because the city wanted to do their own audit of the records, said Leigh Anderson, the head of the city office that coordinates consent decree progress.

“That's one of the things that the consent decree really offers, right? An opportunity for the jurisdiction that is underneath the decree to be able to do self-assessment and self-auditing,” said Anderson. “We wanted to move forward with that process as a test phase. And we did that.”

On Dec. 29, 2023, the city notified the monitor and Justice Department that, due to state law, access to police databases, which include the search and seizure records, would be closed to non-law enforcement personnel. In March, access was restored by the federal judge overseeing the decree.

“If the monitoring team came to us and said, ‘We need to assess search and seizure and use of force tomorrow, along with crisis intervention,’ we would be ready," Anderson said.

Cleveland entered into the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015, agreeing to reform a wide range of police policies, practices and training. The first stages of the agreement — revising policies and adopting new training — have been mostly completed.

The monitor is the court-appointed evaluator of the city’s progress toward meeting that agreement. Eventually, federal District Court Judge Solomon Oliver will decide, based on input from the monitor, the city and the Justice Department, whether the Cleveland Division of Police has made enough progress to be released from the consent decree.

Every six months the monitor releases a report and the 14th Semiannual Report was released this week. It includes a rating for progress on each of the 340 separate reforms included in the consent decree, broken down into categories like use of force, search and seizure, bias-free policing, community-oriented policing and crisis intervention.

The city is currently in what the monitor refers to as “the assessment phase” where large numbers of records are reviewed by the monitor to determine whether police are following those new policies and training.

In 2024, Racine is also planning to conduct assessments on use of force and crisis intervention.

“Completing these assessments in 2024 will require substantial resources and the full cooperation of City leaders,” Racine said.

Once the monitor completes its assessments and finds the city is following the consent decree, the city moves into a probationary period where it will take over much of the oversight and evaluation from the monitoring team.

The city, monitor and Department of Justice are expected in court for a status hearing on April 22.

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