Cleveland City Council Meets Monitor, Discusses Consent Decree

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By ideastream’s Brian Bull

The monitor charged with overseeing the City of Cleveland’s police reform efforts had his first meeting with City Council members today.

Matthew Barge is the vice-president of the non-profit Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC).  The Los Angeles-based firm is being paid $5 million over five years for its monitoring of city police interactions with residents, as part of the consent decree signed with the U.S. Justice Department.

Barge has assembled a 15-member team to ensure police use of force is kept in check. 

In meeting with members of the City Council’s Safety Committee today, Barge made a point of explaining what PARC is not:

“We are not the Chief of Police, we are not the Mayor.  We’re also not the Department of Justice,” began Barge.  “We are an independent agent, and we’re going to call it as we see it.  We are going to take this consent decree and make sure that it is implemented in a way that people throughout Cleveland feel that their police are interacting with them, responding to them, keeping them safe in a way that’s consistent with the community’s values.”

Barge says he’s optimistic much can be accomplished in those five years, as long as both the community and police work with each other.

“The experience of some other cities has suggested that when there is some foot dragging within a police department for whatever reason…it can be problematic if the community remains overly wary too long of engagement within the process,” he said. 

“So part of our job will be to let people know that we really mean what we say when we talk about engagement and having the community at the table and involved in the process.”

The three-hour exchange between Barge and the council was a mix of hopes and doubts.  Council members asked Barge and the three Clevelanders on his monitoring team a number of questions. 

When asked what made Cleveland’s consent decree different than others he’d worked on in Seattle and New Orleans, Barge said it was probably the most far reaching and specific that he’d seen. 

Councilman Zack Reed expressed worries that reforms wouldn’t stick after the monitors and his team finish and leave Cleveland.

“What assurances do I have when I go back to my community, that we’re going to do this?  That this is something embedded in this police department?” Reed asked.

Barge replied that there are measures built into the consent decree that’ll help ensure long-term compliance.  This includes creating an inspector general position to oversee the police force, and appointing a civilian head of the internal affairs department. 

The consent decree was in response to a 2014 Justice Department review of the city police department and its use of force, which found lapses in training and protocols.

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