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Cleveland, federal monitor disagree about progress of police reforms under 2015 consent decree

 Cleveland Police Chief Wayne Drummond speaks at a news conference announcing the Division of Police's mid-year report.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland Police Chief Wayne Drummond speaks at a news conference announcing the Division of Police's mid-year report.

Officials from Cleveland, along with the U.S. Department of Justice and the court-appointed monitor overseeing the city’s police consent decree were in court Thursday for a status hearing.

The city of Cleveland is seven years into the agreement, requiring widespread reforms to the Cleveland Division of Police. Cleveland officials and the federal monitor are far apart in their assessment of whether the city is nearing an end to their 2015 consent decree.

The latest report from monitor Hassan Aden, the first under Mayor Justin Bibb, finds Cleveland police still show a pro-police bias in its investigations of police shootings. It also takes the city to task for not having enough staff for the office that investigates civilian complaints.

The city meanwhile argues the CDP has met big-picture benchmarks with the decrease in use of force incidents and more community engagement.

Asking for an end to the decree
The city did begin to lay the groundwork for ending the consent decree. But it became clear that the clear the two sides saw things very differently. Law Director Mark Griffin argued that the city had achieved the broad goals of the agreement and really only had procedural details left to work on.

He also spoke of the consent decree in the past tense, saying it “has been a success.”

As far as community engagement is concerned, the city pointed out it has officers doing foot patrols and it's tracking and has seen an increase in the number of contacts with the public that are not related to arrests or calls for service.

Griffin focused on officer accountability on the city’s increased rate of clearing cases that they have to investigate and pointed out that every year there are fewer cases that have to wait for more than a year for the investigation to be completed.

And there were a couple of other areas where the city brought out statistics to show improvement.

Falling short on accountability
The city has an Office of Professional Standards that’s tasked with investigating every complaint by a Cleveland civilian against a police officer. Federal monitor Hassan Aden pointed out that the office has been without an administrator since late last year, without a general manager, a number two, since 2020 and is short on investigators. The monitor also said that when the office presents investigations to the Civilian Police Review Board, which makes recommendations for discipline, they show a pro-police bias where investigators will give the police point of view when they’re presenting the investigation.

Aden also said they also saw that in the internal investigations the police were conducting. In one instance, the city didn’t challenge an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate a fired officer and the monitor criticized the city for that.

No rush on a decision
In court Thursday, Judge Solomon Oliver said there’s still work to be done and it’s not time for anyone to be in a rush to end the consent decree.

But he went on to say when the two sides come into court and have an argument with the city saying, ‘We’re ready to leave,’ and the Department of Justice saying, ‘No you’re not,’ then it’ll be up to him to decide.

Judge Oliver said it is his hope that the consent decree ends with the sides in agreement.

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