Backlog Of Complaints Against Police Nearly Cleared, Cleveland Says

Safety Director Michael McGrath, left, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams speak at a 2018 news conference.
Safety Director Michael McGrath, left, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams speak at a 2018 news conference. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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The years-old backlog of citizen complaints against Cleveland police officers is expected to be eliminated later this month, according to a report filed in federal court by the city’s law department Monday.

The monitor overseeing the city’s police reform agreement has pushed city leaders for years to clear the backlog of cases. Cleveland hired Chicago-based risk management firm Hillard Heintze to investigate the old cases, while city staff focused on new complaints.

Hillard Heintze reviewed 281 complaints, most of which were filed between 2015 and 2017; three date to 2014. The company conducted more than 200 interviews with police officers this year, according to the filing, and have finished investigating all but 38 cases.

The city expects the firm to finish the remaining cases by the end of September, Chief Counsel Gary Singletary wrote.

Meanwhile, Cleveland’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS) has handled complaint cases filed since Dec. 1, 2017. Of the 396 cases received since then, 101 remain open, according to the filing.

The complaints range from lack of response and unprofessional behavior to harassment and excessive force. OPS turns cases over to the Police Review Board, which holds hearings and decides whether to sustain allegations against officers.

In May, police review board staff complained to city council that Chief Calvin Williams overrules the board’s decisions too often. Williams agreed with the Police Review Board ruling in about two thirds of cases in 2018.

The monitoring team has called this year a “critical turning point” for the city’s consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department, which was signed in 2015 after a federal investigation found evidence of excessive force and civil rights violations by police.

“Where we are right now is we've essentially finished the policy work,” Monitor Hassan Aden said in July. “But the hard work in implementing those policies and making sure that they become practice—that begins.”

U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver approved policies in August calling on officers to spend about one fifth of their time meeting and talking with residents about local problems. Aden wrote in a court filing last month that police now must follow through on the policies by making changes to deployment, staffing and training.

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