With Deadline Nearing, How Will Cleveland's Next Mayor Handle Consent Decree?
The City of Cleveland entered into a consent decree with the US Department of Justice in 2015.
It’s meant to improve community relations by decreasing instances of police misconduct through the adoption of new policies and training. It followed a DOJ report documenting "a pattern or practic of the use of excessive force" in the Cleveland Division of Police.
In 2020, about halfway through the next mayor’s term, that agreement’s five-year time frame will expire.
Election day is less than a week away. In Cleveland’s mayoral race, the issues this year are common ones in any municipal election – economic development, public safety. But the consent decree is one issue unique to Cleveland that’ll play a big role in the next mayor’s term.
“Our goal is to have it completed in that time or sooner," says incumbent Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who's seeking a fourth term in office.
“Now in terms of the public and whether or not they can believe things are successful, that becomes a personal thing in terms of how your experience if you interact with a police officer," says Jackson.
The consent decree is overseen by a federal judge, with an independent monitor evaluating the city’s progress. The monitor reports to the judge, who decides whether the city is complying with the agreement.
Jackson’s opponent in the mayoral election, City Councilman Zack Reed, doesn’t think the city’s moving fast enough.
“I mean anybody that believes we’re going to do this in five years is living in a fools’ paradise," says Reed, who wouldn’t say whether, if elected, he would go to the judge and ask for an extension.
In a crowded primary, he ran on public safety – hiring more police officers - and made it through to a runoff with Jackson. The major shortcoming with reform so far, says Reed, is the continuing lack of trust with the police.
“Four hundred community-oriented, well-trained police officers. See I start with the community. I start with the well-trained. You gotta put into the mindset of those officers that are out on the street that this is your community," says Reed.
Much of the reform work of the consent decree is behind the scenes – in officer training and the new policies being put in place. Often, that progress is only apparent in court documents.
There are new policies for responding to mental health crises, a plan for bias-free policing and reforms to the office that handles citizen complaints. On that front, the monitor overseeing the consent decree says the city is moving too slowly in investigating years-old complaints against law enforcement.
Jackson agrees with Reed that trust between residents and police hasn’t been established yet. But he disagrees with Reed’s argument that having hundreds more officers in the neighborhoods will change people’s minds.
“You know that’s a strange thing," says Jackson. "I’m being occupied by the police and they’re treating me bad and the reason they’re treating me bad is because I don’t have enough of them to occupy me.”
Jackson says training and accountability for officers who misbehave is more important than hiring more officers.
A survey conducted by the consent decree monitor earlier this year, two years into the agreement, found that the residents of many neighborhoods are still waiting for improvements. For example, Central and Glenville residents said police were quote “everywhere all the time but not patrolling in a way that has a positive impact." Jackson acknowledges there are neighborhoods where officers are still more aggressive than others.
“If I were a citizen who was affected by that, I would say, well, there's no difference here whatsoever," says Jackson.
He says even in those areas where there’s what he describes as "aggressive urban policing," it still has to be done in a professional, constitutional manner. And that’s the goal of the measures in the consent decree.
Reed agrees on the importance of training and accountability. But he argues the mayor isn’t showing enough urgency, on any of the issues facing the city, but public safety especially.
“So why do you still have police officers constantly riding around in cars? Cause you don’t have enough police officers," says Reed. "But when you do get the complement of police officers, when we become mayor of the City of Cleveland, then you gotta say to them, you gotta walk the beat.”
Reed hasn’t given a full answer on where he plans to find money to pay for the extra officers, saying only that last year’s income tax increase provided the money for it.