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Cleveland Makes Progress Resolving Years-Old Civilian Police Complaints

In the fourth year of what’s meant to be a five-year effort to implement Cleveland’s police reform plan, the man who oversees the city’s compliance with the consent decree says 2019 will be a crucial year.

In testimony to Cleveland city council safety committee members Wednesday, Greg White says Cleveland has made progress with its recruiting, staffing, and community policing efforts.

He says final training for a community and problem-oriented policing plan begins in March, and training on new search and seizure policies are set to begin in July.

The city is also hoping to resolve its backlog of years-old civilian complaints against Cleveland police.

Chicago-based Hillard Heintze was hired to investigate 281 complaints filed between 2015 and 2017. They reviewed all of them last year and found 150 required a deeper investigation.

“I at times will get calls daily from citizens, ‘What’s going on with my case, this is 3 years old, it’s 4 years old, I want to know what’s going on with the case,’” Hillard Heintze investigator Chad McGinty told city council. “Certainly there’s an element to this. The citizens are looking for some satisfaction. We are prepared to move forward swiftly.”

So far the process has cost Cleveland about $500,000. McGrath’s office has requested another $470,000 to complete the remaining investigations.

Clearing the old complaints is part of adhering to the 2015 consent decree between Cleveland and the Department of Justice.

“This is not the process of just coming here to the table and finishing investigations today,” said White. “It is the process of getting through this – through the police review board, through the disciplinary process – so that we get closer to compliance.”

The city says it’s made a commitment to ensuring there’s never a backlog again.

As of December 1, 2017, McGrath says the city’s Office of Professional Standards has kept current on civilian complaints. They’ve received 252 complaints since then and less than 100 are still open.

But even with the progress, White says the city is still struggling with data.

“How do we collect the data we need to show we’re in compliance with the consent decree, and how do we use that data in management of the police department?” said White. “That’s the big frontier coming up.”

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