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Looking At The Impact of Cleveland's Consent Decree

Professor Ronnie Dunn (csuohio.edu)

Cleveland has agreed to overhaul its police department under the supervision of a federal monitor in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over a pattern of excessive force and other abuses by officers.

The agreement/consent decree comes just days after the acquittal of Officer Michael Brelo for his role in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire which killed two suspects after a car chase in 2012.

The case helped prompt an 18-month investigation by the Justice Department.

Ronnie Dunn is a professor of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University.  He served recently on Governor John Kasich's task force on Community Police Relations.  He was briefed by the Justice Department on the agreement Tuesday morning, and spoke with ideastream's Tony Ganzer.

DUNN: “I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly read the document yet, but just from the general parameters and overview that they provided at the meeting this morning, I’m very pleased.  On paper, if we are able to fully implement what’s on paper, I think Cleveland will have one of the foremost police agencies in the country.  The parameters are there, there are some components that are very unique and novel, for example, a civilian over the internal affairs unit.  I’ve never heard of that anywhere in the nation. So that would be groundbreaking.  And those types of efforts not only ensure that civilian engagement and community component, but also when we talk about addressing the cultural issues within policing as a profession, I think that will help go a long way in transforming this culture as well.”

GANZER: “As we would expect from an agreement like this, it’s all-encompassing, many aspects to it: touching on use of force, touching on training for dealing with mentally ill individuals, but there is a huge emphasis on community policing, which is something we heard over and over from the listening tours that we’ve had here in Cleveland, but all over the state.  Can you talk about how big a piece that community policing is in any sort of plan like this?”

DUNN: “The community policing component, and community engagement, is essential to public safety overall.  The police will readily tell you they can’t police our way out of the various problems that are presented.  And that community engagement—we have to build and restore trust where it has been eroded.  In essence, we have to win the hearts and minds of the residents in these impacted inner-city or underserved communities.  And once we do, that’s how we then begin to turn that corner and address that ‘stop snitching’ culture.  Because once you have that mutual trust and respect between the police and the community—and it is a mutual thing—then we can begin to really address the crime problems in some of these communities.”

GANZER: “There’s been a lot of praise for how Cleveland reacted to the verdict in the Michael Brelo trial, Cleveland officer.  And here we have an agreement announced days later.  Is this part of the healing process, do you think, after, whichever side you’re on in that trial, it definitely has left a mark on this city.”

DUNN: “Yes, I think it is.  Now we still have some very high-profile cases out there yet to be resolved.  But I think just the timing of the release of this consent decree, obviously the officials knew the timing of both the verdict and then this.  So I think it will go at least some way in helping to at least give the community a sense of positive outlook; that things are heading in the right direction.  So it will bide some time I think.  Now I’m not saying that the protests and demonstrations will go away, because we still have to remain vigilant.  Really the hard part begins now, and that is the implementation. And the community has to stay engaged, there has to be oversight from both the public officials, internal oversight, as well as external.”

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.