Cleveland Police Monitor Seeks Feedback on New Use-of-Force Policies

Cleveland's police monitoring team talks with city council earlier this year.
Cleveland's police monitoring team talks with city council earlier this year. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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by Nick Castele

The city of Cleveland and the Justice Department will hold a roundtable Thursday night on the city’s east side to collect public input on new police use-of-force policies. This is all part of the police consent decree the city agreed to after a Justice Department investigation found evidence of a pattern and practice of excessive force.

GANZER: “Now what is new in these draft policies?”

CASTELE: “Well, a few things stand out. The new policies spell out de-escalation in more detail. They say police are required to try to de-escalate the situation, and the policies provide some tips. Create a safe distance to speak with a person, place barriers between a subject and yourself, speak in a calm manner the options available to them and ask questions rather than issue orders. Another thing that’s different: the new policy says officers have a 'duty to intervene' if they see another police officer disobeying the use-of-force rules. Now, there’s an element of this in the old policy, but the language is stronger. I spoke with Matthew Barge, who’s in charge of monitoring Cleveland’s consent decree, and here’s how he explained this.”

BARGE: “This duty of officers to intervene is simply telling officers that if you see something that amounts to potential officer misconduct, you need to do what you can do under those circumstances to raise the issue and to stop the activity that’s contrary to policy.”

CASTELE: “One other difference to highlight: immediately after the use of force, policy says officers have a duty to provide first aid at the scene while calling in more medical help.”

GANZER: “Now what does the police say on when officers should actually use force?”

CASTELE: “Both say that the force should be “objectively reasonable,” meaning reasonable through the eyes of an officer at the scene, rather than in hindsight. An officer can only use deadly force if a person poses an imminent threat to someone’s life, or serious harm, according to the policies. And there are other factors the officer is told to consider, as well: age, size, whether that person is restrained. And in addition to deadly force, there are also lesser types of force described, such as Tasers, chemical spray, riot batons and beanbag shotguns. And the new policy says these weapons can’t be used against children, the elderly, pregnant women and people who are frail—unless deadly force would be justified in that situation.”

GANZER: “And when does the new policy prohibit using force, explicitly?”

CASTELE: “Well, this new policy includes a list of don’ts. Such as don’t use force against someone not suspected of criminal conduct, unless they pose a threat to others. Don’t use retaliatory force, or force against someone who’s merely verbally confronting officers or exercising their First Amendment rights. Don’t hit people with guns, or fire warning shots, or shoot at people who are not verified threats or who aren’t visible. Also, don’t strike people in the heads with hard objects, and don’t use neck holds.”

GANZER: There is a public comment period on these policies right now. When will they be adopted?”

CASTELE: “Monitor Matthew Barge says the policies will likely be adopted at the beginning of next year, but then officers will have to be trained on them. And then there’s the question of will they make a difference? I asked Barge that, and here’s how he explained it to me.”

BARGE: “I’m not sure that a policy being on the books by itself is going to immediately transform everything within the Division of Police, but it is a prerequisite to doing so.”

CASTELE: “And first, they’re looking for public feedback on these new policies. So there’s the east side meeting tonight, a meeting on the west side next week. And there’s also a feedback form on the police monitor’s website where people can review the policies and share their opinions about them.”

Read the proposed new use-of-force policies below.

 

 

Read Cleveland's current use-of-force policies.

 

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