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Cleveland's consent decree years away from completion, police monitor says

"The 10th Semiannual Report takes us to the point where we're pivoting from technical assistance to a real strong focus on comprehensive assessments on key areas to then report out to the public," Cleveland Police Monitor Hassan Aden told Ideastream Public Media. [Matt Richmond / Ideastream Public Media]
photo of Hassan Aden

It will be at least late 2023 before Cleveland has met all the requirements of the police department’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, according to police monitor Hassan Aden.

“We've got some distance between now and getting to that point,” Aden said during an interview Friday with Ideastream Public Media. “And over the next year, 18 months, we're going to be very aggressively auditing, conducting reviews and conducting compliance assessments in key areas.”

That timeline contradicts Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration, which has said they would seek to complete their requirements as early as 2022.

In its 10th semiannual report, filed Monday in federal court, the monitor included a line-by-line status update for each of the consent decree’s requirements, using one of four categories to describe the city’s progress for each of the 340 items: “operational compliance,” “general compliance,” “partial compliance” or “non-compliance.”

In areas like community policing, bias-free policing, search and seizure and the relationship between the police department and the community police commission, the most common category used is “partial compliance.”

Aden said going from “partial” to “general” or “operational” compliance requires proof that reforms are actually taking hold.

“If it requires training, the training has to be drafted and then implemented,” Aden said. “At that point we start to look for either observables or reviews. And observables would be where we go on a ride along and we can see that officers are in fact doing this thing, whatever this thing is.”

Relations between the police department and Cleveland Community Police Commission remain an area of concern for the monitor. The report describes the CPC as “plagued” by “a lack of respectful, transparent and productive collaboration between the City and the CPC.”

Those issues between CPC and the city have been going on for years and were a focus of the previous semiannual report. The conflict came into view again during a September Cleveland City Council meeting on Issue 24, when Chief of Police Calvin Williams said he doesn't trust the CPC.

"They have constantly, constantly badgered this division from day one and they have not been a collaborative partner as they should be as was written in the consent decree, from day one," Williams said.

In his interview with Ideastream, Aden said the problems aren’t because of the way CPC was set up or its role under the consent decree, which is to gather community input on police reforms. Instead, a new administration might be the best hope for the CPC.

“I think any relationship can be repaired. We've got a new administration coming in. There are going to be opportunities there to repair it,” Aden said. “There is a lot of baggage here with regard to relationships, again I do think there's some opportunities to repair that and move forward in a positive way.”

Cleveland police have established a working relationship with another outside commission set up by the consent decree, the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee. In that case, a group of outside advisors provide feedback to the department on its crisis intervention policies and training.

According to the report, the department is on track to meet the requirements of crisis intervention requirements of the consent decree.

The monitor’s head of community engagement, Charles See, told Ideastream Public Media one difference between the two committees is that CPC was set up to address a much wider range of policing issues.

“MHRAC dealt with the mental health aspect of it and was dealing with that,” See said. “CPC had the entire gamut of problems that the public felt it was having with the police department and was expected to confront the police department in an aggressive way to try to get those things resolved.”

The report also reviewed two internal fatal use of force investigations. Without going into details or naming the people who died in either case, the report described both investigations as “poor” and “biased” in favor of the officers.

Aden said the monitoring team is now in the middle of reviewing a sample of officer use of force incidents to evaluate whether the department’s policies are being followed.

“It's slow moving, it's not a fast fix. But with something that was so fundamentally wrong, a fast fix would never work,” Aden said.

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